Minneapolis: Maurice Blanks, John Christakos, Charlie Lazor '87

I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to the drive from San Antonio to Minneapolis; one thousand miles of 1-35 couldn’t possibly be that exciting. Thankfully, I was wrong. Well, I was a little right, but a little wrong.

Sculpture in Des Moines

The highway was boring, as most large interstates are. However, I was able to break up the drive with some colorful stops in Dallas (a Unitarian church service at the Meyerson Symphony Center!), Kansas City (feasting with the Mukharjis!), and even Des Moines (a stroll in a world-class sculpture park!) before finally arriving in Minnesota.

If you’ve never been to Minneapolis before, find a reason to get here. Maybe I’m biased because I have my good friend and 4-year suitemate, Anna Morrison ‘07 to show me around. But even before arriving at Anna’s, I know Minneapolis has got it going on when I see the hot green Nice Ride bikes stationed around town. It’s a bike-sharing system kind of like the Vélib in Paris. So I gotta give props to Minneapolis for a pioneering role here in the U.S. Obviously there’s more to Minneapolis than just green bikes. Luckily I have a whole weekend in Anna’s company to ensure that I enjoy the best of the town.

Anna lives in Northeast Minneapolis, which is also coincidentally home to the headquarters of Blu Dot, the modern furniture company founded by John Christakos, Charlie Lazor and Maurice Blanks–all members of the class of ‘87. I was able to spend a morning with John and Maurice in their new, super-slick offices. Charlie is now focusing on architecture, more specifically a project called Flatpak, a pre-fabricated housing system that makes modern architecture more accessible. Later in the day, I got to check out one of his prototypes on view in the sculpture garden of the Walker Art Center and I can definitely see a connection to his work at Blu Dot. The materials are simple but the design is wonderfully intelligent.

What I love about the Blu Dot story is that it involves some convergence and divergence. I learn that the three met at Williams and the idea grew  from their mutual frustration that modern, well-designed home furnishings were virtually unavailable to most of the population. They remind me that this was before the days of Ikea, West Elm, Design Within Reach, and even Target. It took a few years, however, for the pieces to fall into place that would ultimately lead to the founding of the company. They were all living in different cities, and for a while, John was studying business and Charlie and Maurice, architecture. But even a few years out of college, they knew their idea for Blu Dot was still relevant, so they came back together to give it a go.

As they show me around their offices, which bear a close resemblance to the art galleries in my old Chelsea neighborhood, I can see that they’re still in love with the idea of democratizing good design. We test out a few new chairs, examine the latest prototype for a lamp, and crack jokes about a few failed ideas. Starting a business is a pretty serious endeavour but I’m happy to discover there is a healthy current of humor running through the work at Blu Dot. These guys are having a good time and it shows.