Growing up in Detroit, Dan Grabowski was influenced not only by his own father, who was a builder, but by his friends' dads, too. "When my dad needed to create or repair something, he would design a solution and then we would go off together and build it. We built everything from cabinets to apartment buildings. That's how things were done in our house," he recalls.
At the same time, his best friend's father was a car designer, whose house was filled with sketches of cars, modern art, and contemporary furniture. "I decided I wanted to do something that combined my love of art and working with my hands. I considered being a sculptor, but then when I was in college, I studied the work of Harry Betroia, and that's when it clicked for me, the connection between sculpture and industrial design."
After graduating from The Center for Creative Studies, Grabowski worked on a range of projects, including power tools for Sears Craftsman and infant care products for Gerber. His primary focus, however, has been furniture design, with a special passion for wood casegoods.
The overriding quality he strives for in everything he does is honesty: solving problems in smart ways using simple, clean, uncluttered lines. "I like the challenge of a good design project, the idea of making something that's more than just a pretty object, incorporating intelligent details that people notice and appreciate."
When working on Herman Miller's Everywhere table line, for example, he focused on every detail, including one little piece that wouldn't even show unless you turned the table upside down. "To me," he says, "a Herman Miller product needs visual continuity in every single detail, whether it's on the top, the bottom, inside or out."
Grabowski is particularly proud of that line because he feels it demonstrates everything he believes in as a designer. "The simplicity of the tables minimizes the visual chaos in active spaces, bringing a sense of calm and order to the room; they are very simple forms but they evoke an emotional response from people."
Living in Grand Rapids for most of his career, Grabowski also spent time as an instructor at Kendall College of Art and Design. His advice to students there was to "learn the basics; the fundamentals of design have to be there first. At the same time, you need to understand technology so that you can communicate your ideas electronically. That way, nothing will be misinterpreted or lost in the translation."