features
#103 / 2013
Wanted Design: NY Connections

One of three market-ready prototype systems using modular connectors shown at Wanted Design (three-year-old alternative to ICFF) Launch Pad

Soapbox | Robert Feinstein

 We wanted to make a better product — something that didn't need tools, a foreign language dictionary, three friends or an engineering degree to put together.

Robert Feinstein founded Soapbox in Asbury Park, New Jersey, in 2012 to achieve that goal, assisted by his wife and company vice-president, Anne Feinstein. Not content to only aim for design with simplicity, they added two more challenges — to produce locally and with sustainability — which would further reflect the dictionary definition of their company's name as "an outlet for a person's opinion."

A 1990 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Feinstein derived his inspiration from observing turnpike steel plate and rivet structures and assembling steel buildings for architectural projects. He started thinking about using plates as clips to create corner connections "and that's how the 90-degree corner [connector], the basis of the whole [Soapbox] solution, was born."

(F1) Soapbox coffee tables

To perfect design simplicity Feinstein started to examine all the aspects of Ikea or Ikea-like furniture he wasn't happy about and combined those observations with his interest in the aesthetic of mid-century modern architecture. To produce locally meant sourcing New Jersey companies that could provide accurately-sized veneered panels, formed sheet metal connectors and powder-coating services. To meet the sustainability challenge Soapbox specified plywood with soy-based adhesive, finished panels with low VOC sealers, and powder-coated the steel components.

(F2) Soapbox long coffee table

For a year Soapbox produced the first batches of furniture with panels in maple, cherry and walnut. Steel connectors and hardware in black, white, blue, green, orange and galvanized finishes added vibrancy. Then Feinstein concentrated on getting more product exposure and heeded PR consultant Nora Wolf's advice to exhibit at 2013 Wanted Design.

"[Exhibiting] was worth my while on a couple of levels. As a young firm and brand, I needed to challenge my ability to get myself ready for such an event. I honestly didn't know how much outreach I would get so I was a little naive, but it turned out great ... talking with retailers and the press about my product ... and being in an environment with like-minded and talented people. I [now] have an ongoing relationship with three retailers and we're in the process of trying to work out a wholesale-retail relationship ... I would never have been exposed to all that [without Wanted Design]."

(F3) Soapbox connector colours and prototype manufacture

The X- and T-shaped connectors, currently in development, will permit customers to build almost limitless configurations of panels and connectors. Feinstein encountered some challenges when the subcontractor's sheet metal machine got in its own way trying to bend the new connectors, but success resulted as "they didn't give up easily," he attested.

Similar to many start-up companies, the next stage for Soapbox includes growing current sales and finding investors to help finance the expanded line of connectors. Through their proposed new website that would "actually allow you to build and design your furniture, telling you what pieces you need and so on," Soapbox will continue to spread the word about design simplicity, local production and sustainability.

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© furniturelink, 2013 (text), images © Soapbox, except (F2) © FL