ICFF 2017 -- Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition

Last week, I took a break from my workaday routine to attend with the DesignHounds one of my favorite design trade shows, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City.  A highlight of the show, and a privilege I've had for two years running, is interviewing the winner and runners-up in the Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design CompetitionWilsonart, an international leader in engineered surfacing materials ranging from high-pressure laminate to quartz, has sponsored this competition for over twelve years.  Partnering with a different design school each year, Wilsonart provides students with a year-long classroom experience in which they tackle furniture design and construction and learn to prepare for a trade show.  It's particularly appropriate that the winner and runners-up get to show their creations at ICFF which typically attracts independent artisans and trend-setters at the forefront of contemporary design.

Each year, Wilsonart creates a specific challenge or theme which the students must execute with Wilsonart laminate.  This year's theme was "borders, boundaries and mash-up," inspiring the students to explore the extremes posed by their environment, culture and society.  Wilsonart partnered with San Diego State University for this 13th annual competition.  Given the multicultural influences in San Diego and the topographical disparities, San Diego State was an excellent school choice, and the students rose to the challenge.

The winning design was titled “A Piece of Tlaltecuhtli” by Matthew John Bacher.  Matthew was inspired by The Tlaltecuhtli Monolith (shown left), a giant historical relief he had viewed at the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.  Matthew's chair symbolizes the appropriation and commercialization of cultural artifacts.  To Matthew, San Diego is an epicenter for the "borders, boundaries and mash-up" theme as a tourist destination where Hispanic culture is reduced to iconography and merchantable souvenirs.  The judges also found his choice of materials --a laminate that mimics real stone -- an apt expression of the theme.  Also symbolizing misappropriation is the support Matthew used to prop his design: constructed of MDF and painted white, the support cheapens the artistry of his chair.


The winning chair, front and reverse, and its designer, .

Drawing inspiration from the Pacific Ocean at San Diego's doorstep, Anna Karreskog, a visiting student from Sweden, created her chair entitled "Waves."


Anna used blue and wood-toned laminates to represent the colors of sand and sea.  The shape of each spline is emblematic of the crest and trough of a single wave.  Taken together, the splines represent a series of waves and architecturally symbolize positive and negative space.  I found Anna's design culturally significant in a different way than others: its form and construction seemed rooted in the Scandinavian esthetic of her native Sweden.

The chair created by Megan Acera, titled "Joyful Frustration," combined the geometric forms created by acute angles with playful colors to symbolize the range of emotions inherent in the creative process.


I interpreted the convergence of the angles and lines of the wood grain to represent the successful result the designer achieves after much trial and tribulation.

Ricky Lopez, a native of San Diego, designed a bench that symbolizes the reliance of the manmade on the natural world.


The form is an Ionic column, halved and on its side.  Support of the column is dependent on the mortised block.

Caselle Reinke was inspired by the San Diego landscape in designing her chair, "Origins."


The colors and organic forms represent the mountains to the east, the ocean to the west and the palms and other vegetation that dot the landscape.

"Home Less Home," created by Chuck Thompson, explores the extreme contrast between San Diego's inhabitants: its luxury homeowners and its homeless population, the fourth largest in the United States.


Its a "mash-up" of forms: a glossy walnut-looking laminate covering remnants of a Morris chair; a raw wood-looking laminate mimicking deconstructed crates; and a concrete-looking laminate base.  The designer intended the chair to illustrate both the contrasting demographics of the San Diego populace and the precariousness of financial security: how an unforeseen event such as illness or unemployment can create a path to homelessness.  The concrete-looking support props up the chair, demonstrating that available assistance can keep someone from "hitting rock-bottom."


Planning an Exit Strategy

I've been away from the blog far too long.  But life has gotten in the way.  A post or two ago, I wrote about my existential crisis: how I found it difficult to resume blogging after my summer hiatus due to family issues and my malaise over the election of Donald Trump.  Design news just did not seem topical when I felt like my world was collapsing. 

Shortly after writing that post, I dealt with another crisis: the passing in December of my beloved almost-95-year-old mother.  Thankfully, for her, she died peacefully at home.  Although she had been suffering from heart failure, there was no illness that had her bed-ridden.  She was sitting in her TV-watching chair and simply stopped breathing.

Although the circumstances of her passing were not punishing, the loss, for me, has been.  It's accelerated certain plans I had on the back burner.  With my youngest child a sophomore at a college about 300 miles away, and my two older children living 200 and 3,000 miles away from home, I am gearing up to downsize.

I've lived in my home for 20 years.  When my husband and I first purchased it, we had never owned anything larger than a two-bedroom 1,200 square foot apartment.  With 20 years of home ownership comes 20 years of stuff.  A walk-through we had with a real estate broker revealed just how much we have to edit to make our home marketable to prospective buyers.  It is a formidable task; one I've chipped away at a snail's pace.

Luckily, certain things we've had to do happened organically.  Namely, repairs.  The ice dams of the notorious winter of 2015 forced us to replace the roof and flashing on half of our house and paint rooms that had water damage.  The snow accumulation left our deck a mess, prompting us to re-stain it.  Last Labor Day weekend, our water heater broke and flooded our basement.  Carpet was ripped out and holes punched in walls to prevent mold.  We had to install new flooring and baseboards, re-patch walls and repaint.  Emptying my mother's apartment and bringing back some of her furnishings gave me the impetus to purge my house room-by-room, reorganize the way my mother would have (she was the consummate organizer) and integrate her things with my own.  All of this is still a work in progress. 

One item on our "to do" list has been ro replace our unsightly kitchen faucet.  It had a brass finish that has "weathered," to put it mildly.  Next week I'm having the faucet replaced with a new touchless faucet courtesy of American Standard.  I'll be blogging about the process and sharing the reveal on the blog so stay tuned.

For the interior of the house, in addition to the repairs, replacements and purging (aka decluttering), we'll have to depersonalize.  We have to make prospective buyers envision themselves living here.  They can't do that with our family photographs and memorabilia around.  There might be some minor staging, although the house pretty much tells a story on its own.  Then there's the perpetual cleaning -- which will be challenging with two cats in our household.  (For once I'm grateful to be an empty-nester.  No kids to clean up after!)  Finally, when the snow melts and ground softens, there's the exterior to deal with -- window washing, pruning of trees and shrubs and flowering plants to add for curb appeal.  I'm exhausted just writing about it all.

Loss is painful and change, specifically moving, is one of the most stressful things we deal with.  I'm hoping that during this time, getting back to blogging -- about the things that make our worlds just plain pretty -- will be a good distraction.  


Greenery: 2017 Pantone Color of the Year

Pantone, the company that universalized color identification, has announced its 2017 Color of the Year.  It's Greenery and I couldn't be happier with the selection.


It's been two years since Pantone named a color I could get behind.  Last year Pantone named Rose Quartz and Serenity, reflecting a watered down yin yang of color expression.  While I like those colors, I disagree that they represented a cultural mood, let alone a design trend.  And let us not forget the disastrous choice of 2015, Marsala.  I have yet to see anything produced in response to that choice that sold successfully.

In contrast to Sherwin Williams' choice of Poised Taupe and Benjamin Moore's choice of Shadow as 2017 Colors of the Year -- both moody colors that make me want to crawl under the covers -- Pantone's choice of Greenery is a color so abundant in nature that it is immediately restorative.  As Leatrice Eiseman of Pantone says, Greenery "provide[s] us with the reassurance we yearn for amid a tumultuous social and political climate.  Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate and revitalize, Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose."

There are so many attractive features of this color.  Greenery brings the outside in and blends our habitats with our surroundings.

Little did I know, when I screen shot this lovely image that designer and friend Young Huh posted on Instagram of her parents' field, it would illustrate how apt Pantone's choice of Greenery is as Color of the Year.

Greenery also pairs well with many other colors, creating a multitude of options for interior schemes; even allowing it to accent existing interiors.  Of course, the easiest way to add Greenery to your home decor is (duh!) with plants.  But if you're more ambitious, below are some designer examples of how to use Greenery in interior designs.

Interior Design by Katie Ridder, photo courtesy of Susanna Salk's Decorating Fearlessly!

Interior Design by Jill Goldberg, photo courtesy of New England Home Magazine

Interior Design by Miles Redd, photo courtesy of Iksel Decorative Arts

Interior Design by Gideon Mendelson, photo courtesy of House Beautiful Magazine

Interior Design by Gerald Pomeroy, photo courtesy of New England Home Magazine


Is Silence Golden?

If you're a faithful reader of the blog (and I'm wondering if there are any of you still out there?), you may have noticed my recent absence.  I like to take the summer off from blogging.  But as summer drifted into fall and as temperatures in the northeast took a nose dive, my hiatus grew longer.  I can't give one good reason why, except to say that sometimes life happens.

To be perfectly honest, I've been having an existential crisis.  For the past six months, I've been dealing with personal, business and cultural issues that have stopped me in my tracks.  On a personal level, there have been health and financial issues affecting me, the family I was born into, and the family I bore.  Business-wise, things have plateaued.  I have projects, but they haven't been things that have challenged me or fully occupied my time.  Culturally, I have been consumed by, and unable to reconcile, the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign and election.  In combination, these factors have left me questioning my purpose, toying with a major life change, and thinking, Does predicting and writing about the next major design trend (among other mundane design topics) really even matter?

As the climate of fear consumes us, both here in the United States and in other parts of the world, I fall culprit.  My design magazines stack up, yet I can't seem to tear myself away from news stories, whether they be on TV, radio in the car or my smart phone.  I've resisted attending as many industry events as I normally do.  I'd rather put on my sweats, cuddle with my cats, cook comfort foods, and lay in my favorite spot on the couch.

I don't think my reaction is atypical.  A friend of mine went for an ultrasound to diagnose a chronic urinary infection.  Quite fortuitously, the doctors found a cancerous lesion on her lung.  Luckily, they caught and treated it early, but it changed my friend's entire outlook on life.  These types of life-threatening events make us re-orient our priorities.  I suppose I'm just in the process of figuring out mine.

I know for sure that good design fosters well-being.  When a space works, we delight in its beauty and experience equilibrium.  I do what I do to create a sense of wholeness and happiness in my clients.  I suppose that I will ride this crisis out, taking comfort in and being grateful for the small things that bring me joy.  If there's a good design that I can bring to the mix, or a blog post I write that inspires you, I'll consider that a step in the right direction.


Social September

For the past several years, Australia's The Reach Foundation has sponsored "Social September."  The Reach Foundation is an organization aimed at enhancing the social well-being of youths ages 10-18.  With a motto "Disconnect to Reconnect," the aim of Social September is to encourage people of all ages to engage in face to face contact in lieu of using technology to communicate.  Registering in Social September comes with a mandate to unplug, even for as little as an hour a day.  Which engenders the question, how long can you go without looking at your smartphone?

I've been ruminating about this lately.  When I'm bored, I turn to my phone.  If I'm not checking email, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, I'm playing my go-to trilogy of digital card games: Solitaire, Free Cell or Spider Solitaire.  Or I'll play Mah-Jongg.  I think about the growing stack of magazines that I subscribe to and the novels worth reading.  I should opt for those instead, but more often than not, I don't. 

Attention to social media leads to certain pitfalls.  Like two weekends ago.  It was a beautiful Sunday, and we had no plans.  Now, my husband has been unemployed, and consequently, we've been in financial austerity mode.  Foolishly, I started to browse on Instagram.  After seeing various postings from vacationers as close by as Nantucket and as far away as the Cote d'Azur, I was sick and threw down my phone.  The problem with Social Media is it breeds lifestyle envy (a known phenomenon).  This phenomenon can lead us to switch to a different platform (the healthy alternative) or give up entirely (the non-healthy alternative).  Last Sunday, I obviously succumbed to the non-healthy option.

In my profession, I've embraced social media.  I use it for branding, marketing and publicity.  I also use it for research.  I follow other designers and brands to keep abreast of new products and design ideas.  But sometimes, it becomes toxic.  Like when I see the projects of other designers I wish I had.  I heard not too long ago of a colleague's decision to abstain from social media for six months for just this very reason.  And this would be the last designer I would expect (from this designer's social media profile) to suffer from lifestyle envy!  Simple proof of the pervasiveness of this phenomenon.

So I think I will commit to Social September.  And I invite you to do so also.  Instead of sending that text message or email, pick up the phone.  If you have news to share, call your friends and family.  Or better yet, arrange a visit.  Engage in face to face conversation.  After all, it's only human.