AHA Life: Where are you based?
PIET HOUTENBOS: Born and raised in New York City. Can't seem to ever really get out of here. It's too great a place.
AHA Life: What was your vision when you launched your line?
PH: Singular Products evolved as something I could use to group unique ideas into one ball. I wasn't interested in making a “line” at the time and still enjoy working with different inspirations and materials and ideas. It seems to be the natural way of a designer, to move from grenades, to mirrors, to furniture, chandeliers and more. I try to find a genre that's not all that exciting, make my contribution and see what happens.
AHA Life: What is your background?
PH: I grew up in New York City with two creative Dutch parents in the fashion world and started making things very young (probably like everyone else). I remember drawing patterns on my mother's purse with colored sharpies. My father actually encouraged it though I can't remember what my mom thought. I went on to the Rhode Island School of Design where I got my BFA in Industrial Design and have been working design jobs, freelancing and slowly building a small collection of housewares under my own name, now dubbed Singular Products.
AHA Life: What inspired you to create the grenade oil lamp?
PH: A long while back I had a project while still at RISD which simply stated, “Take something and turn it into something else.” I came across an army surplus store and held a grenade for the first time. When I had it in my hand I realized how much meaning these things had just holding them, so I set off trying to turn these things “into something else”. At first I tried making a lighter but it was too technically challenging and I soon realized it could simply sit all by itself gently burning as an oil lamp. Some modifying and a few days later I inserted the first wick, lit it, and it was plain to see that these were somehow very cool.
AHA Life: Do you use real grenades in the creation of this lamp?
PH: Yes. Kind of. When grenades are manufactured they generally end up in two places. They are first sand cast from molten iron. Then one of two things happen. They are filled with explosives and sent to the military as live grenades, or they saw off the bottoms and again send them to the military. The latter are dubbed “dummy grenades," and cast in the same batch as the live ones but left empty with a large hole at the bottom so they can't be filled. The military uses them for practice. A soldier can easily verify it's not live before they pull the pin by the large hole at the bottom.
AHA Life: How was it made?
PH: Of course the first thing I do is fill that hole again! But lamp oil is harmless. In fact it's not even flammable! Lamp oil simply serves to slow the wick from burning, it's the wick that actually catches fire in any lamp. There are a few modifications that have to be made, I seal the bottom with a US quarter - always with the bald eagle showing as an added bonus. I wanted to change that at one point but everyone liked it so there it remained. They actually come to me very rough, I have to clean and coat them or plate them in 24k gold or nickel (silver tarnishes very quickly).
AHA Life: Why did you decide to plate the grenades in silver and gold?
PH: Christmas came along and it seemed like the right thing to do.
AHA Life: What are some of the reactions you’ve had to this design?
PH: They have ranged the full gamut. I’ve seen comments accusing me of profiting off war but most often they tend to be seen as a positive symbol. Some have had very personal and meaningful connections with them. A wife buying one for her husband off at war comes to mind. It can get intense in both directions and I’ve learned that emotion of any kind is what great products should strive for. They often just weird people out - there has been an ongoing discussion in the Netherlands whether they should even be legal (as they could be used to scare someone), though I assure you - and is the basic result of the discussion - that in the end they are just metal containers loaded with psychological effects. But most often people just seem to think they’re cool.