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Behind the Design: One-on-One with John-Michael Ekeblad

Swedish designer John-Michael Ekeblad seems tailor-made for the Skura Style challenge of reinventing the kitchen sponge: 12 years at Ikea, four years on global design at Tupperware, plus two decades helming his own studio, DaytimeNYC. That said, it’s his quirky, sunny personality that endears him to Skura founders Alison Matz and Linda Sawyer. John-Michael shared a bit of his philosophy during a recent chat, including some design tips you can use at home.

“I don’t go out into nature and watch the leaves falling and listen to a brook; for me, I need a purpose in what I do. Otherwise, I’d just lie on the floor and scratch my dog’s belly!”

On his background

John-Michael’s Swedish upbringing blends with his creative work experience to form a unique approach that he sometimes calls “industrial artistry.” “I began in the fashion world but at some point, everything in fashion turned to black, so I started thinking in terms of fashion for the home. That’s when I joined Ikea. A big part of what I’m doing is to create structures from chaos. And with a typical Swedish design approach I constantly reduce to clarify the essence of things.”

And he started young: “I’ve always liked working with my hands. My grandfather was a carpenter, and my father an engineer, so it’s been natural for me my whole life to put different things together to create something new.”

On Skura Style

From the start of the Skura project, John-Michael had a definite point of view: “These days, design follows the product idea; you need to have an endpoint in mind. It’s not enough to simply design a beautiful sponge. To create a different footprint in this market, you need something else. We landed on an innovative foam material with antibacterial properties. This was key.”

‘My core being as a designer is to beautify rationality. That’s been my driving force all along.’

Everyone knows that looks aren’t everything–but let’s face it, they definitely count. John-Michael’s vision really helps the Skura sponge stand out. “We came up with what I like to think of as a pattern in motion. The monogram on our Skura sponge is a design element that moves with your eyes as you use the product. It’s an optical play,” noted John-Michael. “And there’s a timelessness to these colors, detached from momentary trends. You can look at this design in five years and it will still appear fresh and interesting.”

On everyday design

John-Michael is a big believer in the democratization of design. As he sees it, a little creativity and willingness to experiment with happy colors can jazz up anyone’s space, without breaking the bank, either. “I work out of my home, so I have lots of small things for my projects like materials, product parts, and swatches to keep track of. To avoid clutter overload, I keep things in various-sized boxes, anywhere from tiny to large. Most of them are paper boxes in different colors, which adds an interesting look and also helps me to remember what’s inside.”

In the kitchen, John-Michael’s fresh thinking goes beyond a Skura by the sink: “Kitchens can be made more personal and inspirational by making quick-fix changes with small details like fabric towels, or colored knobs on cabinets and drawers. You can also add artwork in unexpected places, like photos and prints, or storage canisters with different color and patterns.”

On his four-footed friends

There’s something perfect about John-Michael’s love for the Basenji. This spirited breed is a sight and scent hound–ideal for someone with such a discerning eye himself. They are mischievous companions, though–John-Michael vividly remembers an important client appointment that ended with a missing designer shoe discovered with a big bite taken out of it. He recalls with a laugh, “That was a $700 meeting for me!”

Celebrating with canine friends led John-Michael to the creation of The Frozen Forest Doggie Delights, featuring custom dinner cakes that are safe and healthy for dogs, made to order for NYC-area clients. No doubt a Skura sponge will come in handy after one of those dog parties!