Inside the Nerve Center of Noir Trading, Inc.

When spring finally hit the Northeast this past May, I decided to head west.  I was invited to attend an open house at the headquarters of CFC and Noir Trading, Inc., sister furniture companies located in Gardena, California, right outside Los Angeles.  With my favorite (and only) son living in Los Angeles, it doesn't take much to coax me to visit L.A.  The open house was scheduled for a Thursday leaving ample time over the weekend to spend with Jordan.  I'll write more about CFC in another post, but this post is dedicated to the "laboratory" of Georg Baehler, the founder and creative mind behind Noir.

A woodworker and cabinetmaker hailing from Switzerland, Georg brings to Noir the quality and craftsmanship the Swiss are known for.  Georg founded Noir in 2004 to bring artfully-crafted, well-designed furniture to the Americas at affordable price points. 


I took this photo in the Noir/CFC Showroom in High Point, North Carolina during Spring Market 2015.

Georg personally designs each and every piece in the line -- and there are 1500 active items -- by hand, with a pencil and paper, in actual, full scale.  It takes Georg about 6 to 8 months to develop a product for production.  If one of his designs is copied by another manufacturer, it's discontinued.


That's Georg on the left, in front of his drafting table in his office at Noir headquarters.  To understand what drives Georg's prolific creativity, and eccentricity, you have to go behind the scenes to the nerve center of Noir -- Georg's office (really a loft) at Noir headquarters. 

Georg built the office largely by hand.  And it's still a work in progress.  It sits atop the business offices, separate from the more routine operational aspects of the business.  The office is Georg's laboratory.  But instead of beakers and bunsen burners, it's filled with collections . . . gleaned from lowly trash heaps to popular flea markets.  Here are several examples:


An ethnic totem in front of art and furniture tomes.  Notice the old camera and skulls.


A collection of wood, brass and iron candlesticks.


A collection of cut glass decanters and assorted bottles on the left and vintage typewriters, a vintage adding machine and movie projector on the right.


A variety of objects from vintage cameras to microscopes to weights and statues.

Many of Georg's collections become props for Noir and CFC's showroom during High Point market weeks.

Certain areas of Georg's office were captivating.  Like his dressing room, below.


And here's Georg's desk area.


Here's a casual sitting area with a window overlooking the warehouse.


Here's another seating area with theatre seats in front of books and a Roy Lichtenstein poster.


And here's the "play" area -- a foosball table tucked into a corner of the vast loft.


The office is a collector's delight and reveals those qualities of Georg that are sensitive to minute details and to creating composition.  From this hodge podge, I could see how Georg cultivated his aesthetic and where he derives his inspirations for his creations for Noir.






ICYMI -- Part 2: 2016 Junior League of Boston Show House

Before we festoon ourselves in the Red, White and Blue in celebration of America's Independence Day, let's take a look at how some of the 2016 Junior League of Boston Show House designers used color to punctuate their designs.  Color is one of my signature design elements, so it's no surprise that these rooms especially appealed to me.

"The Morning Room" was a particularly appropriate name for Kate McCusker Rosenberger's show house room given the bright, sunny colors that complemented her space.


Photo courtesy of Theodore and Company

Despite large-scale neutral upholstery, the space came alive with pops of yellow (note the ceiling plane), orange and hot pink.  Kate perfectly balanced the saturated hot colors with cool neutrals, yet she made the room feel decidedly colorful.

In a similar palette was Kelly Rogers' Mother-in-Law Suite.  Adding saturated colors to ceiling planes might just be the takeaway from these two spaces.


Lest you think that pinks and purples should only be relegated to bedrooms, take a look at Steven Favreau's Library.  Steven cloaked the walls in drapery to disguise their disrepair, but the effect was to create a soft and undulating backdrop for art displays.  Lilac trim, area rug, and upholstery fabrics are a departure from the dark wood and leather we come to expect in a library.



Bright orange was the jolt that Diana Frucci used to spice up her Family Media Room.  In addition to being an interior designer, Diana and her husband own Furniture Consignment Galleries in Hanover and Plymouth, Massachusetts (and are soon opening a location in Natick) and used furniture from their stores to furnish this space.



Photo courtesy of Furniture Consignment Gallery

Last, but not least, is the color used by Vani Sayeed to bridge the challenging height of the kitchen she designed.  Below is a "before" shot of the two-story space.


Two-story spaces pose challenging design problems of scale and proportion when the area, not the volume, of the space is small.  With on-trend gray cabinetry, Vani tackled the soaring ceiling height by applying a vivid red faux-leather wallpaper above the cabinetry and using the additional height as gallery space.


Bare windows bathe the room in natural light and modulate the red walls.  The large-scale sculptural light fixture also helps to consume the room's massive volume.






ICYMI -- 2016 Junior League of Boston Show House

Part I -- Classic Chinoiserie

The 2016 Junior League of Boston may have closed over two weeks ago, but some rooms are still fresh in my mind.  This was the 45th anniversary of the show house, the last one being in 2012.  The site this year was the Nathaniel Allen House in Newton, Massachusetts.

If you're a long-time reader of my blog, you'll remember I chronicled my experience participating in the previous Junior League of Boston Show House.  I sat out this time.  I had heard that the house was a wreck and I didn't want to devote the capital, nor did I have the mental energy to devote to what seemed like a major investment.  Being a show house designer is one of the best professional experiences I've ever had, but this year it wasn't in the cards.

My favorite rooms this year had two notable characteristics.  The first was the classic and ever popular use of chinoiserie.  The second was the dominance of hot colors. 

Chinoiserie is a centuries-old design style inspired by the influx of goods brought to Europe from the Far East during the Spice Trade.  Today, we see it represented in lacquered and pagoda-like forms and Oriental imagery adorning fabrics, wallcoverings and furniture.  At the show house, we saw the more classical interpretation in rooms designed by Boston designer Gerald Pomeroy.  And we saw a more modern interpretation in a bedroom designed by Elizabeth Benedict.  Both were such extraordinary examples of great design.

If any designer in Boston represents traditional style and fills the enormous shoes of the legendary William Hodgins, the dean of Boston residential interior design, it is Gerald Pomeroy.  His designs have a classic elegance.  At the show house, he designed the Receiving Room and the Sitting Room, both resplendent in the fine craftsmanship and quality materials his designs are known for.

Gerald's Receiving Room was adorned with de Gournay wallpaper.  There is nothing that represents Chinoiserie more than de Gournay wallpaper.  (Well, maybe Gracie wallpaper.) 


The view, above left, is as you entered the Receiving Room.  Although the de Gournay wallpaper created a picturesque and nature-inspired atmosphere for the room, the octagon center table, beautifully dressed with a custom embroidered table-skirt is the focal point.  That table-skirt was created by Ankasa, known previously for its fabrics and embroideries adorning high fashion, and now available for interiors.  To the right of the entry, was the japanned sideboard, carrying the eye into the adjoining Sitting Room.


In the Sitting Room (above), neutral upholstered furnishings, more contemporary in form, are the counterpoint to the more traditional elements of the Receiving Room.  I especially liked Gerald's treatment of the ceilings in these adjoining rooms.  The room lacked a beefy crown molding.  To give the illusion of a deeper, more elaborate crown molding, Gerald continued the paint color of the walls onto the ceiling and then added a narrower, complimentary border to outline the plane.  A beautiful way to draw the eye to the ceiling plane without detracting from the design at eye level!


In contrast to Gerald's more traditional interpretation of chinoiserie, Elizabeth Benedict gave a more contemporary version in her bedroom designed as feminine retreat inspired by her teenage daughter.


The image above shows how the room looked before Elizabeth left her mark.


Hot colors of pink and green are offset with the pastel blue backdrop.  Adding pattern with textiles, a woven area carpet and trellis wallpaper on the ceiling plane, Elizabeth adds softness, harmony and interest.  Chinoiserie accents include the lantern-adorned window-treatment fabric, Dana Gibson lamps and vases, ceramic garden stools and pagoda bookcase.


What keeps the room from being too youthful and going too far with chinoiserie is the contemporary art over the mantle, a great accent choice.








Lighting it Up at ICFF

I expect to be blown away when I attend the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City.  From boutique wallcoverings to benchmade furniture, the show is a wellspring of new product discoveries outside the mainstream.  This year, the most memorable exhibits consisted of lighting fixtures.  Seeing the creativity and complexity of the designs reinforced how a single lighting fixture can be the sine qua non of an interior design.

The most interesting and jaw-dropping fixtures were made from novel materials assembled in unusual and artistic ways.  Twenty-three year-old Jim Torres, an industrial designer from the Philippines, debuted an interesting pendant for Zarate Manila made from metal shavings.  Cloud-like in form, the Escapade fixtures seemed to float in air.  Lamped with typical incandescent light bulbs, the fixtures would be extraordinary if lamped with more efficient and concentrated lighting elements.


Venzon Lighting's Cherry Blossom Linear Pendant was also cloud-like in structure.  Blossoms made of shell are adhered to a painted aluminum frame.


Venzon's Sea Grass Collection had a decidedly organic feel.  The wall sconce cast interesting shadows from its reticulated shade.


Cast shadows were a prominent feature of the Beacon pendant introduced by Allied Maker.  Cylindrical in form, the fixture is inspired by the work of George Nakashima, renown architect, master woodworker and father of American craft.  Casting light up and down, the vertical pendants and sconces come in a variety of lengths and are especially dramatic when grouped.  All of Allied Maker's fixtures are made in the company's Long Island, New York workshop and are hand-finished.


Light and shadow, illumination and reflectance--these qualities are the essence of the sculptural Lure Sconce exhibited by Pelle Designs.  Hand-sculpted petals made of cast paper are illuminated by an LED spotlight suspended from a brass arc.  The spotlight reveals the intricate layers of the blossom while the white petals reflect and illuminate the surroundings.


Form, pattern, texture and illuminance categorize the multiple offerings from Axo Light.  Simple linear and geometric shapes are evident in their U-Light, Framework and Hoops fixtures.  The U-Light, introduced at ICFF, is an aluminum U-shaped frame with an attached ring embedded with an LED strip.  Its form is at once simple, yet monumental.


Axo Light's Framework is a collection of wall, ceiling and pendant fixtures in the shape of a simple rectangle.  Layering the fixtures at different heights and angles creates an abstract assemblage.


Axo Light's Hoops fixture packs a concentrated LED up and downlight in a sculptural pendant finished in 24 karat gold.  Its lines are sinuous and elegant, yet equally contemporary.


Adjacent to Hoops, above, is Axo Light's Mountain View fixture, made of hand-blown glass, revealing the texture and silhouette of rugged mountain peaks. 

Pattern adorned the shade of Axo Light's Melting Pot pendant and wall fixtures.  The shades are available in light patterns with white inside or dark patterns with gold inside.  The asymmetric juxtaposition of pattern and form are a surprise element.


I always like to see the work of Michael McHale Designs at ICFF.  Like me, Michael left a law career to do something more creative.  His lighting fixtures combine the elegant and the mundane: for example, a skeletal structure of industrial pipes dripping with faceted crystals.  His Matrix collection uses a universal base, allowing buyers to swap out the design elements as their tastes or fancies change.









Take A Seat

In addition to practicing design, I teach it.  Teaching rewards me as well as (hopefully) my students: it enables me to impart an appreciation for design to my students while reinforcing the depth of my knowledge and experience.  That's why it was such a treat to see the winner and runners-up of Wilsonart's Challenges Student Chair Design Competition with the #Designhounds at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) a week ago in New York City.

This is the 12th year that Wilsonart, a leader in engineered surfaces, notably laminate, has sponsored this competition.  The competition challenges students and budding furniture designers to create a unique chair using Wilsonart laminate.  Each year the students' creations are inspired by a different theme, this year's theme being "design for delight."  Wilsonart hosts the competition at a different American design school every year.  The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan -- a private, fully accredited college with a student body of 1,400 students, granting bachelor and masters degrees in the Arts -- was chosen this year.

While "design for delight" might have been the theme of the chairs -- resulting in designs that ranged from whimsical to avant garde -- the engineering feat undertaken by the students to create a functional seat with a somewhat immalleable material was inspiring.  I couldn't help but thinking that it was only 70 years ago that Charles and Ray Eames figured out a way to bend plywood with their LCW chair, an invention that paved the way for the students' creations.

Whimsy was clearly at the heart of runner-up Alejandra Bucco's Pie Chair.  The checkerboard pattern with apple silhouettes was created with laminate!


Runner-up Adam Whittaker's En Throne chair was also an amusing take on the iconic royal seat.


Veering toward the avant garde was the chair created by contest winner, Stephen Marchio.  His Prelude chair enchanted the judges through its use of pastel colors and slanting angles.  Explained Design Historian and Wilsonart Challenges Program Director Grace Jeffers, “The slanting angles of this chair are an optical illusion, which distract us from the fact that the lines of this form are perfect right angles."


I also loved the experimentation with form in the Geode Chair by the second runner-up, Zachary Boomer.  The chair beckoned me to "take a seat."  What the chair lacked in comfort, it made up in imagination.


Contest winner Stephen Marchio set this intention for his winning chair: to reflect “the idea that a maker often looks back on his or her work from years ago and can get the sense of progression.  It projects into the future of a skilled designer’s life while simultaneously honoring all the little steps they took to get there.” . . .  kinda the same experience I get from teaching.  I hope that the students can look back at the experience afforded them by Wilsonart as the springboard for long and successful design careers.  Congratulations finalists.


Disclaimer:  Wilsonart was a co-sponsor of my trip with the Designhounds to the ICFF.  Chair pictures courtesy of Wilsonart.