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DESIGN DESPERADO
KARIM RASHID WOULD LIKE TO RESHAPE THE WORLD IN BOLD COLORS AND SLEEK LINES

A hot designer famous for curvaceous trash cans and chartreuse chess sets will speak at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery tonight to explain why more of the world should be soaked in electric acid colors and rounded shapes.

"I'm tired of brown bricks. I'm tired of concrete and tan," said Karim Rashid, who promotes sleek, modern, minimalist interiors and shows disdain for nostalgia.

He will make the trip from New York City to Buffalo to describe the philosophy behind his award-wining designs, dubbed "future humoristic" and "sensual minimalism."

Rashid was born in Cairo but grew up in Toronto. The 44-year-old with a penchant for hot pink has a client list that includes Amstel, Coca Cola, Estee Lauder, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Target, Sony and Toyota.

"Can we reshape this world?" Rashid asked on the phone from his "world headquarters" on West 17th Street. "I want objects to be alive like we are."

To remake the planet as he imagines, Rashid has no limits on the sorts of things he'd like to turn into new shapes.

His industrial design training led to his first big hit in 1999, a translucent Umbra trash can with handles. At $5 they are still in production and have sold 5 million so far and can be bought at popular housewares stores.

The now ubiquitous trash can spawned more designs: Shiny oval trash cans, flat and square ones for slipping into a narrow space, manhole covers, dish-washing liquid bottles, as well as dresses with optical illusion grid prints.

There are molded plastic chairs, pink and orange perfume bottles, purple and silver space-age shoes and even a hotel in Athens with an unusually shaped pool.

"I think he's invaded people's lives without them even knowing it," said Jeffrey Fields, head of Marketing and Visitor Services at the Gallery Shop at the Albright-Knox. Fields has been seduced by Rashid's whimsy.

When asked to count up all the different Rashid objects the gallery would be selling, Field sighed. The order was in the middle of being shipped and unpacked. There were too many objects to easily count. More than 20 and less than 50, he said, offering a partial list: Silverware, fruit bowls, salt and pepper shakers, hot-pink menorahs, vases shaped like silhouettes of a man and a woman, silk ties, two-faced watches, creamers, backpacks. A crystal vase with an etching is $140 and a fat pen in hot pink and lime, $17.

The range of objects and prices is one way to see Rashid's notion of "democratic" design, but it's his wider-ranging philosophy that Rashid hopes will inspire people.

"A lot of times I think what I say is more interesting than what I do," he said.

Rashid is the son of a set designer. His father would sew new dresses weekly for his mother, an artist, according to the brief biography, "Karim Rashid" by Marisa Bartolucci (Chronicle Books, $12.95).

In Ontario, Rashid grew up designing things, too, including sewing his own hockey outfit with pads. He went on to study at Carleton University in Ottawa and did postgraduate work in Italy. He started his career with a firm that had Black & Decker as clients, founded a fashion company and taught at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.

In 1993, he opened his New York City studio. One of his early clients was Nambe, a New Mexico company that makes vases, bowls and candlestick holders from a shiny aluminum alloy. His latest venture is a Manhattan shop with his designed objects for sale. One day he'd like such boutiques in North America's shopping malls.

His growing client list has given him the power to design and publicly philosophize, which is more interesting to him than fame. "I don't really care that I'm a celebrity," he said. "I get to do things in the world that I probably wouldn't have."

He believes that standard-issue everyday objects, from old file cabinets to antique or antique-like furniture or other looks that hearken back to an age gone by, are a kind of downer for the human psyche. Such "old" looking things don't fit the lives we lead now.

"We're living in the third technical revolution, which is the digital age, which is an amazing age," he said. "I hate seeing a world where we live in the nostalgic past all the time."

The things we touch should reflect our modernity, he said. It bothers him that technological tools like cell phones and computers are often the only things in a room that have a sleek look.

"Why wouldn't our domestic environment be the same? You're not going to play tennis with an old wooden racket," he said. Once the computer is turned off, people should not go sit down in an old-fashioned rocking chair. "The rocking chair should be a piece of technology in itself," said Rashid.

This idea came through in his Athens hotel design, which dispensed with traditional doorknob hangtags. Instead, doors have electronic displays that guests can program to spell out anything.

"It could be 'Do not disturb' or guerilla propaganda," said Rashid in the biography.

"You should be able to look at something and it should be part of you," he said on the phone last week. "You build an envelope around you."

Rashid combined esoteric description with specific details of his affection for Buffalo. When he was a young man growing up in Toronto, Western New York was a place for wild fun.

"I used to go out drinking at the bars because they were open till 4," he said. "It was always a bit of a thrill."

He also considers the Albright-Knox, with its modern collection and old and new buildings melded together, to be one of his favorite museums in North America.

"It's a museum I've respected all my life," he said. Not long ago, he drove here for an exhibition that featured his wife Megan Lang. He showed her the gallery - "She loved it" - and saw a play. The two-night stay reminded him of Providence. Buffalo has that same artsy university town feel, he said.

His message to those who come to hear it Friday will be that physical surroundings matter more than people realize. Rashid does not insist that everyone go out and refurnish their homes with his hot pinks and translucent greens and silvery organic shapes.

Transformation can be as simple as getting rid of old-fashioned looking clutter.

"I think you can change your life a lot by reconsidering all that," he said.

Rashid's talk begins at 8 p.m. and is free.

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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