Posts tagged with "Furniture":
In 1981, Lenoir, North Carolina–based Bernhardt Furniture Company founded Bernhardt Design with a mission to focus more internationally and to cultivate a roster of established and new talent. Jerry Helling has been president and creative director of Bernhardt Design since 1991 and has established a number of initiatives, including an interdisciplinary course with the world-renowned ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena and ICFF Studio, a scholarship program that provides exposure for emerging designers. Helling and The Architect's Newspaper's Editor-in-Chief William Menking discuss Bernhardt Design’s past, present, and future.
The Architect’s Newspaper: You have been president and creative director of Bernhardt Design since 1991, and in that time it has become a company known to value good contemporary furniture design. Were you brought into the company to push design thinking, or did you come to realize its importance in the marketplace?
Jerry Helling: I’m usually accused of being ahead of the curve, which is probably accurate. I had a hard time understanding why the American market was still so rooted in historical reproductions when other countries were doing interesting contemporary design. I decided to change direction and see if we could find a market in America for well-designed contemporary furniture. It was a big risk and it took ten years to really catch on. Some of our best pieces were discontinued in the early 2000s because people didn’t understand them or want them at the time. You must remember this was before the re-emergence of the Eameses and the entire midcentury catalogue. Design Within Reach hadn’t opened yet in the mid-’90s, so it was difficult to educate an audience on the value of original design.
Do you see contemporary furniture becoming more appreciated by American consumers?
Yes, definitely—it is fashionable and it sells, so everyone is interested in it now. There are a number of reasons why this entire phenomenon has coalesced and it is hard to pinpoint a turning point.
Design became a business buzzword and many studies and books were written about design thinking in everything we do. The media started covering design in a major way and that brought it into the public consciousness, and Design Within Reach’s outreach to consumers helped too. The idea that everything goes in cycles also played a role; in America we were ready for a new modern design cycle, which the Europeans had adopted after the Second World War and continue to support. The interesting point of all this is that at first, you think it is driven by the younger generation, when in fact the baby boomers are fueling the demand. They are leaving their homes filled with family antiques and want to downsize with modern furniture and accessories. I find the younger generation more eclectic, combining modern furniture with flea market items, IKEA, and traditional furniture. They are less likely to be driven by trends.
You are well known for your support of design education and mentoring of young designers. What brought you to focus on education?
It was purely a matter of need. While design students receive a wonderful education in design, they don’t receive much guidance regarding what to do after they graduate. How do you present your ideas and concepts to manufacturers? How do you create designs that can be manufactured and that people want to buy? This has been the basis of our annual program with ArtCenter College of Design—striving to give students a real-life design experience before they graduate. From there we moved on to creating ICFF Studio, a platform to help young designers once they have graduated and need exposure to manufacturers, retail, and the press.
What initiatives are you working on at the moment that excite you?
I’m pleased that we are presenting the American Design Honors award to a wonderful couple from Oregon called Studio Gorm. They are doing interesting and exciting work and I Iook forward to people being introduced to them.
We are also doing a project under the title of “The Creatives.” It features actor Terry Crews, Grammy-nominated singer Tift Merritt, and Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia. People will have to visit ICFF to see what it is all about, but I can say their work is great and you won’t be disappointed!
You might say that furniture designer Jonathan Nesci is doing things in reverse. Rather than starting his career in a small town and ending with his work selling at auction in the big city, he is making a go at high design in a small community. After working at the Wright design auction house in Chicago, Nesci made the seemingly unconventional move away from the furniture mecca to a small town in south-central Indiana. But that small town was none other than Columbus, Indiana, the modernist playground. Nesci sat down with AN Midwest Editor Matthew Messner to discuss.
The Architect’s Newspaper: Why the move from Chicago to Columbus, Indiana?
Jonathan Nesci: Primarily, my move was a family decision. During the financial mess of 2008–2009, my time at Wright had come to an end and I felt like we needed a fresh start. I felt like I could really work from anywhere, and the thought of my kids getting a chance to grow up in a place like Columbus was and continues to be very appealing. This is not meant to ignore my obvious connection to the architecture, but on a whole the appeal of Columbus is very broad.
Have you found living surrounded by many masterpieces of modernist architecture to be beneficial to your work?
It’s undeniable. It’s energizing to see the Henry Moore sculpture at different times of day, or catch a different view of an Eero Saarinen project that I hadn’t seen before. So much of my design work is informed by the past; I feel very fortunate to get to interact with these places on a regular basis. It’s also encouraging to see some great examples of the built environment really working for people. Architecture and design can make a difference and are doing so here. Not just for me but for an entire community. That’s really powerful.
You are often associated with the architecture community, especially through collaborations and exhibitions. What do you take from those formal or informal relationships?
I’m eternally grateful for the connections to my peers in the design and architecture community. These relationships inform and inspire me. Columbus is my creative island, but it’s important for me to travel and see other ways of working and learn from my contemporaries. I have so much respect for work that rises above the norm, and I admire those who are pioneers in this industry. I feel like my world is all about connections and dialogue.
Your work is directly tied to the manufacturing process. Could you talk about your relationship to the people who make it?
My hope is that the relationship between designer and producer makes both of us better at what we do. This collaboration pushes design and fabrication further, and it’s this fusion of ideas that excites me. I guess the most significant change since moving to Columbus is developing a great relationship with numerous local firms, specifically Noblitt Fabricating. It’s rewarding and beneficial to see multiple projects through with the same team.