Modern in Denver, 1.18
JOSEPH RIBIC LIKES THINGS THAT STAND OUT A LITTLE—things that prompt a good story. And his home in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood is no exception. On a street filled with forgettable facades of red-brick, stucco, and wood siding, his 1940s-era home reflects a time when steamships and commercial airplanes brought bold curves to architecture and furniture design, earning the home a place on page 99 of the book Denver Going Modern. From the street, he says, the house resembles a “big Brownie camera”—and he’s right.
Walk inside and you’ll discover a collection of Eames chairs arranged around his kitchen table, a bright yellow Plopp stool developed by Oskar Zieta, and one of Ribic’s own creations—a side table that turns into a chair. As the head of the one-man show called Objeti, Ribic spends his days creating furniture and lighting designed to be highly functional conversation pieces.
Soon after graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in architecture, Ribic realized he didn’t have the patience for projects that might come to life after four or five years, if ever. He loved the small-scale architecture of furniture, and decided to follow in the footsteps of heroes like Charles and Ray Eames, Jean Prouvé, and Joe Colombo. Now he tackles furniture design as an artist and a craftsman: Ribic spent a year earning a masters in industrial design at Accademia Italiana in Florence, Italy, and took that knowledge back to his family’s machine shop in Cleveland, where his father and brother manufacture critical parts for airplane engines. In Objeti’s earliest days, Ribic spent 9-to-5 learning how to program and operate the dozen CNC machines for the family business while devoting weekends and evenings to his own creations.
Things took off in 2010, when he presented his offerings at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, and was named best new designer. Not long after that, Objeti was highlighted in the pages of Dwell, Metropolis, and Wallpaper. Ribic now devotes nearly all of his time to the business, which he relocated to Denver when his wife, a doctor, was hired to treat liver-transplant patients on the Anschutz campus of the University of Colorado.
Ribic typically renders projects in Rhinoceros, then programs those distant CNC machines from Denver, sends materials to Cleveland, flies back to Ohio, and gets to work. In a weekend, he can prototype a new product or complete an entire production run, then assemble all the parts back in Denver. When he wants to boost his inventory or fulfill a new purchase order, he asks his brother to crank out more items and ship them to Denver for assembly.
Like any good inventor, most of Ribic’s creations begin as solutions to problems.
“My design process is basically me troubleshooting my life,” he says. Most husbands who come across a dresser covered in their wife’s jewelry would look for a drawer to hide it all. But Ribic invented a collection of magnetic pegs that attach directly to a mirror as a clever way to display them—a solution that he’s also adapting for bathrooms full of stray toothbrushes. As he walks through his own kitchen, he mentions that he’s working on a garbage can that’s more like a piece of furniture designed to draw the eye, and less like a kitchen appliance that aims to blend in.
Many of his creations are crafted from aluminum because it’s lightweight and easy to fabricate, but Ribic also loves exploring unusual materials: He’s worked with sculptors in Italy to produce a modern alabaster lamp, employed Amish woodworkers in Ohio to create a collection of wooden stools, and even dreamt up a series of felt lamps with help from a fez maker in Turkey.
“I’ve always been focused on refined, timeless design inspired by everything from modernism to mid-century,” says Ribic. “I just like making beautiful things with no ornamentation beyond the simple details that hold things together.”