Robin Levien likes to joke that he designs products for both ends of the alimentary canal: tableware and sanitaryware.
A partner in Queensberry Hunt Levien, he and David Queensberry designed the highly successful 'Trend' tableware range for German manufacturer Thomas in the early 1980s. Off-white, delicately ribbed, and winner of 'Die Gute Industrieform' award, it was a big hit, 'like writing a successful pop song', says Levien.
In the early 1980s Ideal-Standard invited him to develop a range of bathroom furniture for the mass market, with the warning that it was 'not a very glamorous job'. The outcome was the Studio range, which has won several design awards and is a favourite with architects and designers. 'The key is that it's very understated, very simple and functional with no frills,' says Levien. His latest range for Ideal-Standard, the space-saving Space, has evolved from Studio.
Levien studied ceramics at the Central School of Art and Design and under David Queensberry at the Royal College of Art. The 'still-life' ashtrays which he designed for friends Ben Kelly and Geoff Hollington's celebrated refurbishment of the college's student bar were all stolen when the bar reopened, but the experience of working as part of a team influenced Levien's decision to move from fine arts to product design. His final project at the rca, again with Kelly and Hollington, set out to break design rules - mould lines were deliberately left on pieces. 'It explored mass production but with an intellectual twist . . . It was a big break with the cult of originality which pervades a lot of courses.'
After leaving the rca, much of Levien's work came through David Queensberry, who ran his own practice Queensberry Hunt with ceramics and glass designer Martin Hunt. In 1977 he joined the practice and in 1982 he became a partner.
Levien describes his long-standing relationship with Ideal-Standard as 'totally trusting'. Apart from Studio and Space, he is responsible for the elegant Kyomi range with its disc-shaped green resin tap tops. Launched in 1996, it won a Design Week Award in 1997 and became another favourite with architects. Levien never mentions the string of awards his products have won, and it takes some detective work in his studio to discover that he is a Royal Designer for Industry. This honour can only be held by 100 designers at any one time, and is awarded by the rsa for 'eminence and efficiency in creative design'. Levien is certain that his work for Ideal- Standard is largely responsible for winning him this accolade.