Vicki Matranga, Design Programs + Services
“What’s New?” is the annual question at the International Home + Housewares Show. Retailers, media and exhibitors hunt for the latest products, trends and ideas. In 2014, the Show offers an exclusive, one-time occasion to a select group of companies whose products demonstrate high design and innovation. These cutting-edge talents appear in Design Debut, a unique “incubator” section of Discover Design.
“Design Debut is a unique opportunity for companies and designers to display their homewares for the first time at the International Home + Housewares Show. Once the companies experience a successful introduction to our Show, we hope that they will return to exhibit in Discover Design with a full booth presence,” explains Laiza Altaf, trade show sales manager.
This year, Design Debut introduces ten companies; some are U.S. designers who launched their first products with crowdfunding. Others are entrepreneurs who come to Chicago from the U.K, Spain and Italy to dip their toes in the global market. Make time on your Show schedule to get acquainted with these mini-exhibitors and get inspired by their fresh ideas.
Port Living: Seacoast Couple Craft Concrete
Jordan and Annastasia Castro live on Plum Island in Newburyport, Mass., a picturesque seaport founded in 1764 and about 35 miles north of Boston. Historically thehome of innovators in manufacturing and maritime trade, the area now nurtures a creative community of high tech and artisan start up companies. Jordan and Annastasia hand craft products for Culinarium, the small business they started about two years ago.
Jordan, where did you get your idea for your products? Did you have a “light bulb” moment about a problem that needed a solution?
This is a good question…I would never have guessed five years ago that our family would be making a living crafting concrete kitchenwares! Our niche certainly does appear to be slightly esoteric, but it came naturally, and in hindsight the idea for our business could be described as somewhat of a fait accompli. It sounds like a cliche, but our business comes out of the experiences that my wife and I have shared. Our products reflect so many things about us…We enjoy cooking and baking, we love all things maritime and appreciate simple and austere design. Certainly, all of these factors are integral to the way we craft our wares. Of course, my past life as a project manager who specialized in concrete mix design also influenced what we do!
Is this your first product line or have you had earlier experience in taking a new product to market?
Culinarium is our first product/brand that we have brought to market.
How did you engage advisors or investors in your idea?
We are very fortunate that we were able to bootstrap our business. Everything we have done to this point has been accomplished with a lot of sacrifice and sweat equity! While we have not had any formal advisors, we do have a fantastic network of friends we are able to call upon for some production questions that are outside of our comfort zone.
We did have some business experience from former and unrelated work and I recently took some accounting and finance courses which were a huge help when it came time to develop the numbers end of our business.
What inspires your passion in your work? How do you stay motivated as a young entrepreneur?
I think Culinarium is special in the way that we are dedicated to bringing unique products to the marketplace. I don’t believe that our success can be measured by the simple fact that we craft products out of concrete. Our mission is much more than using an ancient material in a novel way. Rather, we aim to create products that we honestly love. The authentic desire to create original products that we would purchase for ourselves is our biggest motivator. I sincerely believe that in order to be set apart from the competition, makers must follow their instincts and create only the items that are a consequence of their own circumstances and aesthetic inclinations.
Why did you decide to try the International Home + Housewares Show? Have you exhibited at other Shows?
We showcased our wares at the New York Gift Show in 2012 where we had a great reception. Our attendance at that show was a big reason why we submitted our products for Design Debut. At the New York show we met Perry Reynolds, vice president of marketing and trade development for the International Home + Housewares Show. He suggested that we consider the Chicago Show and referred us to Nancy Michael, senior manager of business development. I can’t overstate how helpful Nancy and Perry have been and I am particularly grateful for how generously they both continue to give us their time and guidance. Of course, we constantly hear from friends in the industry that the International Home + Housewares Show is a great venue, but I am not sure that we would be exhibiting here this year if it were not for the support that we received from Perry and Nancy.
What do you see as consumers’ biggest concerns regarding housewares products?
I can’t speak for all of our customers, but I think that there is a special connection with the products that we craft, the customers who purchase them and the functionality that our products provide.
Consider our most popular products: Our small and large Classic Salt Cellars.
These products are at the heart of the home. If you cook, chances are that you are using salt. Sure, it’s only a vessel that contains something mundane, but that simple salt cellar could actually be considered to be a very intimate object. Our salt cellars are being used everyday. A salt cellar is always on your countertop, it’s part of your routine. I still have one of the first cellars that I ever created and I love it. I cook a lot, so it is always close by. It has taken on the patina of years of use, so it tells a story of the many meals it has helped prepare. The concrete looks ancient, yet modern and austere. It has a unique tactile quality. There is an elemental role that salt plays in a cook’s repertoire and I think that the aesthetic of our concrete cellars make them the perfect vessel for this indispensable ingredient. I think that all of these qualities contribute to why one of our customers purchases any Culinarium product.
What are some of today’s challenges that new product development professionals face in the housewares market?
Every product developer is going to have a unique set of challenges. To appreciate what a producer has to consider, you have to take into account the size of the business, the nature of the products and the value they provide in the marketplace. The biggest challenge that Culinarium faces is simply the fact that it is difficult to stay focused on our core products and the brand that we have created. I often have ideas for products that don’t relate to our current product line. It takes a lot of discipline to focus on kitchenware when I have a great idea for a candle holder or something else outside Culinarium’s concept.
It’s a very competitive marketplace, which is why it’s so important that we reserve our creative energy for the continual improvement of the processes and products that constitute the Culinarium kitchenware line.
Thank you, Jordan, for describing how you and Annastasia shape a traditional material into stylish kitchen products that connect emotion and function. Visit Port Living/Culinarium at Discover Design S4083 and see more about their work at
Discover Design is the premier design destination at the International Home + Housewares Show. Located in the South Building, the invitation-only category features more than 100 exhibitors from around the world. Companies driven by innovation and design present distinctive products and collections in Tabletop, Gift, Textiles and Home Décor categories. The Discover Design Gallery, accessible to buyers and media, features select products that are entries in the Global Innovation Award (gia) for Design. Learn more about Discover Design exhibitors and their products at www.housewares.org/discoverdesign.