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The California Toyota Design Research Studio, known as Calty, was the first automotive design facility to open on the West Coast, in 1973. Then it was a pretty big secret (employees didn’t even have business cards), but now, almost every car manufacturer has a California studio, the state being ground zero for car culture in America. Calty focuses on research design, experimental concepts, competition design, and advanced design for Toyota and Lexus. What they create is all about innovation and inspiration. Its concept cars are about ideas, not about mass production. But some models dreamed up there do make it into production, like Lexus’s LF-LC concept car, which premiered at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show and became the source of inspiration for the Lexus LC500 four years later.
Over the summer, Whitewall had the rare chance to visit Calty and see the LF-LC concept car in person, touring the facilities and hearing about the process from the design team from sketch, to computer model, to full-size clay sculpting. The initial prompt for the LF-LC was to design a beautiful coupe that reset Lexus as a brand. The team set out to create a new language of design, taking inspiration from the shape of a lily, its twisting shape, and cutting edges. In person, the exterior was quite impressive, but what seriously struck us was the interior, where a harmony of opposites was achieved between cold high-tech and warm color and textures.
We heard from the interior and color and trim design teams—Project Chief Designers William Chergosky and Ben Chang, Studio Chief Designer Wendy Lee, and Senior Creative Designer Mona Beattie.
WHITEWALL: What was the overall interior experience you wanted to create?
WILLIAM CHERGOSKY: Our task was to create something new for Lexus—a new taste, a new flavor. What we brought in was a much more artistic, more advanced, more avant-garde beauty and application of technology. You can see that with the way the soft forms were inspired by the petal of the lily and the technology is a bit colder. That contrast created a very unique, modern, and compelling way for Lexus as a vision forward. You can see it in the way it developed forward in the LC500; the production version, that seed and that idea, bore fruit in the production model.
MONA BEATTIE: For color, I wanted to create an overall feel of the exotic in an abstract nature, as if you were in the rainforest of Costa Rica, with a very rich color and vibrant texture and material. When you approach the car, you see immediately from the outside the interior color. As you open up the door, it is very inviting. Once you sit inside, you will feel the energy of nature coming from the combination of the three very strong colors: the off-white, dark brown, and the honey.
WW: One striking design element is the center console, that twisting shape, which references the lily petal. Can you talk about creating that?
WC: The lily directly inspired the flavor of the console. That twisting shape envelops and humanizes the tech and makes it the tech more seamless and accessible. Often a car feels very cold and engages you in a businesslike way. This engages you by feeling. It’s very warm and natural and inviting like a kind of cocoon folding over and coming toward you.
BEN CHANG: We wanted to make sure that the car is also engaging for drivers. That enveloping creates a sportier feeling, too. It’s kind of like a cockpit. When you sit inside, you feel like you are protected.
MB: The color is very simple because the shape is already there, and very elegantly designed. So I applied the brightest color on this concave shape, with the honey color and with the texture to emphasize the soft touch.
WW: How did you decide on the material?
WC: There was a discussion we had when we decided on the colors. The idea was that the outer surfaces would be just like leather, a smooth leather, and then the inner surfaces would be the suede, the back side of the leather. So that even the application of the material represents a natural application. It feel very intuitive.
WENDY LEE: In terms of color, we always try to apply to make sure that whatever material we put in, has a true authentic and respectful feel. The concept is about a harmony of tons of contradictory elements integrated beautifully.
WW: Calty is a site devoted to design ideas and experimentation. Where do you find inspiration outside of the automotive field?
WL: We travel to international shows like Salone del Mobile in Milan and Dutch Design Week regularly to see the more advanced trend research. A lot of times you see something that is intriguing and we will bring it back and share with the team and then discuss possibility of using it for projects.
WC: It’s so important to gain a vision of the future, taking things in the present and trying to project, seeing a way you can use it that wasn’t initially intended. I think that is the magic of what happens within this building, with the people at this table. We are able to see something beyond what the creator thought it could be used for. It’s crazy important, I think, for a small group like us to get out and see things. It has a tremendous influence on the product. If you just think inside your own bubble, you create the same things over and over again. You have to broaden your world and explore a much wider canvas.
This article is published in Whitewall’s winter 2017 Luxury Issue.