Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 4/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Kris Lin managed BDDW's New York furniture showroom for nearly five years. Yet she never met her neighbor Philipp Mainzer, an architect and furniture designer who cofounded E15 Design und Distributions. Ironically, it was Lin's industrialist father and stepmother who tracked Mainzer down to the outskirts of Frankfurt, where he now lives, to ask him to handle the interior of their continuing-education brainchild, Xue Xue Institute in Taipei, Taiwan. (Xue means learning in Mandarin.)
For Mainzer, whose portfolio includes fashion boutiques for American Apparel and Closed, this commission proved his biggest yet: Xue Xue fills a 10-story tower originally built for light industry. Featuring loft like classrooms for courses in fashion, color theory, philosophy, and music, the 67,600-square-foot open-plan conversion is a breath of fresh air in crowded Taipei, but the project's local design consultant found the idea rather foreign—even for the top-floor offices. "He requested many small spaces to circulate the energy," Mainzer says.
"We just told the feng shui guy to leave the solutions to us," adds Lin, who by that time had left New York to join the effort. That wasn't her only contribution. She also worked with Mainzer on the 6,000-square-foot second floor, where a kitchen lab hosts cooking classes and occasional television tapings.
Aiming for an industrial vibe, Mainzer and Lin outfitted the lab with a stainless-steel hood and shelving, oversize professional-grade ovens, and a generous island topped in black granite. Customized versions of the company's oak Bigfoot tables accommodate 22 students, who assemble to prepare what Lin calls "home cooking"—milkfish soup, stir-fried crab—and then sit in black-walnut ladder-back chairs by Lin's former boss, Tyler Hays, to wolf it down.
The adjoining canteen called Ecoh, Ecoh, for one bite, is open to the public. Here, Mainzer ripped out brass ornamentation and gaudy polychrome marble floor tiles. He then specified self-leveling concrete flooring, white plasterboard canopies suspended beneath the exposed ceiling, and bracingly Spartan white walls—except for the blackboard cladding the wall by the kitchen. Every month, the long sidewall gets a new mural painted by a student from a local college. Shelves in hand-flitched white oak, to match E15's signature tables and benches, display colorful ricecookers.
Ecoh, Ecoh has proved a hit, thanks in part to low prices, the 80,000 hungry people who work in the surrounding technology park, and an evolving mix of fusion fare. It's mostly hot meals, in deference to Taiwanese preferences. Salad greens are a hard sell, and forget sandwiches. Otherwise, East and West seem to coexist deliciously.