Tom Newhouse walks the environmental talk. From the earth-bermed, passive solar house and studio that he designed and built in 1978 to his recreational choices (kayaking, hiking, and snowshoeing—“all human-powered activities”), Tom has lived his ethos despite the shifting winds of fad and cultural consciousness. Sustainability is part of the “Four Corners Philosophy” of design from which he operates. According to Tom, products should be: aesthetically pleasing, sustainable, ergnomic, and cost-effective. Tom works primarily in the areas of home and office furniture, kitchens, and lighting. His most recent design for Herman Miller was the Flute personal light.
Here are seven questions for Tom Newhouse:
1) What are you working on right now?
I am constantly researching the latest advancements in sustainable design and how that relates to my ongoing industrial design work in office furniture, major appliances, lighting, and other markets.
2) Which of your projects are you most proud of?
Hmmm….probably my passive solar, earth sheltered, low energy consumption studio/residence with its now 31-year-old green roof. (There is a flock of wild turkeys just outside my studio door as I type this). Herman Miller’s Limerick chair. Viking’s new line of commercial cooking appliances for restaurant chefs. Herman Miller’s new Flute (LED) personal light. Flute is probably the “greenest” product I have ever designed.
3. What inspires you? Where do you go for inspiration?
Architecture has always been an important inspiration for me. I love to sketch buildings “en plein air” when I travel. Advancement in materials, processes, and sustainable design technology are things I am constantly researching. LEDs are an example of a disruptive technology that I am deeply involved in. All architectural lighting solutions designed before the invention of the White Power LED are rapidly becoming environmentally and aesthetically obsolete. That is very exciting!
4. What work do you most admire by another designer or artist?
That is a really hard question! There are so many….probably the early work that Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick did for Herman Miller. I worked with those two (in a junior capacity) on several interesting design research projects that later resulted in the Equa chair, Ethospace, etc. The powerful collaboration of Bill and Don on those projects really expanded my horizons.
5. What would be your dream project?
To design a truly beautiful and functional product that is actually “restorative,” instead of damaging, to our planet. I have made some progress in minimizing the ecological footprint with the products that I invent/conceptualize. To actually create a product with a “net positive” impact on the environment would be amazing! I am not actually sure it is possible.
6. What place in the world would you most like to visit?
There are so many places….maybe kayaking, and hiking in New Zealand with my wife, Jill.
7. What one thing do you want to accomplish before you die?
See number 5.