A move to India from Los Angeles in 2006 to discover the world of architecture became a life-changing experience as Samuel Barclay immersed himself into the culture of the City and decided, this was it…And in 2013, Case Design was born.
Co-founded by Samuel and Erica Barclay, Case Design is a studio-based practice in architecture and design, committed to exploring the design process through acts of making. With a diverse and dynamic team of designers and architects, Case Design has grown over the years and introduced a brand extension, Case Goods. In partnership with Saleem Bhatri, Director of Product Design, Case Goods is a range of furniture, lights and objects rooted in the Indian tradition of craft.
“It’s not one person’s voice, we try and cultivate a culture of inclusiveness and collaboration” says Samuel, as we delve into conversations about life, Case Design, moving to Mumbai, favorite restaurants, and much more…
The first thing you do when you get to work
It’s always a collection of meetings. Our studio has grown over the last few years and we do spend time making models and drawings but a lot of it is also conversation and dialogue, both with people on our team and other collaborators that we have. A lot of it is sitting down and meeting with people to discuss design.
What inspired you to move to Mumbai?
I actually came as a student in 2003. I was on an exchange while doing my masters in LA and just kind of really fell in love with the way that work can be produced, the collaborations that we’re able to have with artisans of all kinds.
What does lunchtime look like at the Case Goods office?
One of my favorite things before the pandemic was that lunch used to come from my home. We would have vegetarian rice, daal, chapati, sabzi, from my kitchen at home. We have this amazing fourteen-foot-long table just made out of two timber planks and we all sit around that to catch up and discuss. Sometimes it would be a continuation of conversations around work, or would quite often be about what movies have we seen and what books we have read and so it’s just a nice way to engage with people.
This would be every single day! I hope we’re able to safely do it again at some point, we have also grown beyond my home kitchen’s capacity!
Favorite piece from everything you’ve done so far
It’s like asking me to choose my favorite child! It’s hard to say. The one that feels the most personal to me is actually the building blocks – it’s probably the one that sells the least! We have these sort of small little brass blocks that we use for making models and we designed a really simple wooden holder that they are housed in. It’s actually what the logo represents, the four or five modules, and for me that idea of combining design with making.
They’re a very practical tool, we use it at our studio every day for making models. I love to make models with them myself, so in that sense it’s probably one of the first and most personal pieces.
Favorite craft to work with and why?
That’s a tough one! The one that’s probably closest to my heart is carpentry. It’s kind of a boring answer, but I grew up working with my grandfather’s tools in different kinds of workshops. Wood in some way has always been approachable. It’s always been something I’ve felt comfortable working with and has a low bar for entry in terms of picking it up oneself.
I think as I’ve kind of grown and understood the sustainability implications of it, it’s become more and more interesting. India has an incredible, incredible tradition and there are people i’ve been really fortunate to work with, the different workshops and individuals – it’s just been really enjoyable as well.
What do your weekends look like?
Usually they’re often filled with work to be honest. We’re doing a couple of projects in Alibaug so I’m often back and forth to sites there. Specially on the weekends its quite often the time when clients are free from their offices. I have a meeting this Sunday and I’m going to be working from home this Saturday. I try to take breaks as and when I can. Having your own practice is a lot of responsibility but at the same time you can kind of schedule things to fit in between and certainly work hard to make time for family, friends etc.
How do you unwind after a long day of work?
My wife Erica and I always enjoy watching movies with the kids or just hanging out, catching up on the day. I coach basketball as well, so I enjoy watching it too. I coach the Varsity Boys Team of the American School of Bombay since the last 8 or 9 years – it’s a great way to relieve some stress and get some exercise.
An interesting experience about your work travels
What we try and do is take inspiration. There’s such a rich culture not just here, but we’re also doing projects in Zanzibar as well and have worked in other parts of the country, other parts of the world as well. We take as much inspiration from these places as we can.
Recently we created, what I hope becomes a family, is an oil diffuser that was inspired by the way that lime is produced in Zanzibar and here in India. It is called the Chulha, and basically, we’ve used it by taking the traditional form of a part of the process of making lime, and then made the object itself out of lime and crushed terracotta/brick. So, what we try and do as we’re moving around whether its locally in Mumbai or other parts of the country or world, is to really keep our eyes open and be curious about things – I think that’s a really important part of design, curiosity. And to take that inspiration and fold it into things that we make.
Favorite food or restaurant here
I certainly broadened my horizons after moving here! I think at the moment it’s the Pizza at Americano Restaurant. Anything on their menu! We love going there, it’s sort of become our family place. I love what they’ve created on their menu and just the place in general.
What are you currently working on?
We’re about to release a collection of handles that I’m really excited about. We have about 3 different families of different handles and knobs for architectural hardware.
We’re also working on a chair that we’re able to flat pack and ship. Also, a shelving system and a candle holder.
It’s an array of different skills. We’ve been working with a company that uses agricultural waste to product a kind of paper-like product without using wood, so it’s almost like a recycled material but you can mold it and we’re working with them to hopefully produce a collection of lights.
We really love the diversity and it’s all driven by people in the studio and what our interests are. We look for opportunities to develop things out of the architectural projects that we do as well, so it’s really organic in that sense but still a lot of fun.
What does sustainability mean to you?
There’s a line in our mission statement of sorts about the ability to create lasting value, and so for me, so much energy and effort goes into producing anything, let alone a Case Goods piece or a piece of architecture or something like that. Obviously, you want that to be produced and manufactured in a sustainable way. It will have its own life span. The idea for me is that you make things that hold value for a long duration so that they’re around, are functional or beautiful and have somehow been around for a tremendous amount of time. Ideally, we try and produce things that are around for generations but in a thoughtful way.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
It’s funny because I had an amazing teacher in Grad School who said the first part of the process is the most inspiring, the middle part is the most interesting, and the completion of the process is the most disappointing.
What I think he meant by that is, there’s a great excitement and anticipation when it’s a kernel of an idea and then obviously the development of that idea is kind of a fascinating process. There’s just something in the finality of it that while you hope the result isn’t disappointing, you want to make sure that the next process or project is already knocking on your door. So, I think it’s in anticipation of the potential that anything can come.
Which artist/architects' work really inspires you or who do you look up to?
Its everyone! The school that I went to, SCI Arch in LA really shaped how I think about design and work.
There is a plurality, there’s a pantheon of gods in that realm and so I think we draw a lot of different things from a lot of different places.
I look at someone like Corbusier who was an architect and artist. You can look at people like Arne Jakobsen or Alvar Aalto who are architects and furniture makers.
You sort of pull different things from different people and obviously the incredible depth of not just making and production, but the design knowledge that exists within the crafts here in India, the carpenters, the masons, people who work with everything from Bidri, to weaving to polishing to stone.
We sort of try and soak as much of it as we can – it would be difficult to say that there was one loud voice. We try and look for things that are contextual and relevant.