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Meet: Christine Tan

  Christine wears the Talita Dress in Soft Black.

Christine and I both attending the Rhode Island School of Design - and I had the good fortune of meeting her at the Philadelphia RISD alumni chapter’s annual Valentine’s day party. She was one of the first to arrive - and I was instantly taken with her vivacious personality and obsession with good design. Her business card is this amazingly thick piece of chipboard with amazing debossing - and I knew that we just had to get to know each other more. Her design studio is incredible - she transformed an old antique shop on Girard Avenue into a modern design studio. I hope you enjoy reading about her career and passion for design as much as I did!

What lead you to open your own studio? Was there a moment in your career where you realized working for yourself would be more fulfilling? My partner, Nicholas Tazza, actually was the one who convinced me to open our own studio! We have been together for a long time and developed our work ethics, style, and interests through school and a lot of jobs. When we lived in NYC, we found freelance work together on projects outside of our firms/agencies. As more and more projects came in, we realized we could sustain ourselves with these “side projects.”

I find working for others and ourselves to be both fulfilling in their own way! However, with our own studio and storefront, we are able to also provide other necessary programming to push our dialog. That has been the most fulfilling part.

What have you found to be the most important tools for owning and operating your own studio? A well-maintained calendar and systematic weekly/daily to-do list. We have a lot of components going on with our studio and storefront, and with a small team, it can get overwhelming to get it all done.

Fork Spoon has worked with a diverse clientele- from Coach to Cooks Who Care (and other big and smaller names in between). What is it about what you are doing with Fork Spoon that attracts businesses of all kinds? When we began as freelancers almost 7 years ago, we had a few small clients, who we still work with today. I’d like to think that our clients find value in our work that can help their businesses move forward in a considerate way. We’re super conscious of creating design work that provides solutions that systematically work and maintain longevity. Our “aesthetic” can range from typographic styles to illustration, and the applications can range from graphic design to spatial concepts. I think we’re pretty versatile in what we can provide.

Christine wears the Youko Fly Away Tank in Rose Ash Stripe.

Your studio space doubles as a storefront for books and objects. How did the storefront come to be? AND we have an education component! There were a lot of factors, solutions, and missions we are trying to provide.

When we decided to move home to Philly, I wanted to start a small retail concept. First, though, we both needed a studio to do our contract work because at some point, having a desk at home or in a shared space didn’t cut it anymore (too many distractions, no place to sit with clients, etc.). Through working for ourselves, we found there is a vast population of people who are either dismissive or unconscious of design, and found this resulting in problems such as a) client who didn’t know how to position their businesses in a saturated market, b) potential clients who valued our time for the work (way too low budgets, impossible timelines), and c) just plain bad design everywhere that didn’t provide value to the world.

So, we hypothesized that if we created a more open and honest dialog about what design is and why it’s important, it might help alleviate these issues. We talk about design through practice (our design studio and the shop itself as a case-study), education (Open-for-Use Design Reference Library, workshops, lectures, events), and retail (well-designed objects and books for one to take home and enjoy).

If you were to give a few words of advice to someone wanting to make the leap to owning their own studio, what would you say? Have a clear idea of what value you can provide within your industry, and be persistent and patient. Good things really do come to those who wait, but also those who stick with it!

Christine wears the Enia Gauze Robe in Griffin Graphite.

Can you remember any career-defining moments or decisions and what they taught you? I took a hand-building furniture class at school. I went to school for architecture and my school kind of forced you to explore different departments through a mandatory short semester between our regular fall and spring ones. Working by hand to build a pretty-complicated wooden chair in 2-weeks taught me a lot about construction, design, and our relationship with objects. I found my interest in “architecture” was really about how humans interact and perceive spaces we occupy. This led me to work in a millwork shop for a few years and then an architecture firm that built retail stores and high-end residential work. I worked on designing store concepts that encompassed fine details like merchandising displays, furniture, signage, etc. 

You also teach! How has this role served you? When I teach, I emphasize design knowledge and honing students’ ability to talk about their and others’ work. Being active in academia allows me to think about new ideas on a regular basis through these conversations. This helps me in my own practice to find new interests that ultimately feed into projects concepts that can be more rich, well-considered, and unique.

As a creative director, you are spending much of your day designing for others - how do you stay creative in your personal life? By the time I get home, I’m pretty wiped, so I find creativity in activities that give me joy. I find that in cooking and baking.

Christine wears the Ella Top in Whisper White.

What are your wardrobe mainstays? Comfort, mobility, and utility are super important as I’m either at a desk or testing how to build something. A pair of dark jeans and a good tee are a must. The Neves pants have also filtered into my regular rotation as they work with many types of looks and they are SO comfy.

Being based in Fishtown, you are surrounded by an endless selection of small businesses and restaurants - what does a perfect day in the city look like for you? Caffeine first! I really enjoy coffee, especially from Elixir and Reanimator, but I’ve been opting for tea lately. Steap and Grind is my go-to since they have great quality loose leaf teas. A quick grab-and-go breakfast from either Lost Bread Co for their Egg Pocket or a savory pastry from Cake Life is great for the drive to either the Wissahickon or a secret field where we take our dogs for a run. In the afternoon, another trip to the PMA [Philadelphia Museum of Art], this time just to see what’s new in the Contemporary and Modern Art section or the Perelman Building. In the evening, a show at Everybody Hits (a batting cage that hosts shows on most evenings) or Union Transfer.

Christine wears the Enia Gauze Robe in Griffin Graphite.

1 comment

  • Susan Lavine

    Look forward to visiting your studio and neighboring businesses next trip to Philadelphia. The Voloshin clothes look great on real people!

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