Art mirrors life, yes? And we’re living in some tumultuous times where divisions of many types rule the day. So the drive to return to genuine relationships and engagements is stronger than ever in all walks of life – and design is no exception.
At last month’s Winter Show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, that need manifested itself in the form of pieces that brought with them an authenticity—a story people would be drawn to and can learn from. Designer attendees we spoke to saw a focus placed on handcraft; an eclecticism new to this fair known for its traditional offerings; a juxtaposition between U.S. and international vendors that highlighted the charm and magnetism of Americana while also serving as a reminder of where we need to get back to as a country. That story was told in part through this year’s loan exhibition, Collecting Nantucket, Connecting the World, by way of portraits of the island’s diverse people, crafts and preserved relics such as sailors’ scrimshaw and journals from captain’s wives.
“I never have a chance to see what America is about and its history and the things that we’ve produced over the past 200 years,” says Frank de Biasi, design co-chair for the event and founder of Frank de Biasi Interiors, LLC, who sees the show as a grounding mechanism to do so. But he also looks to antiques as a platform to both educate and push visitors to hospitality spaces out of their comfort zone—a time to experiment in ways you might not do so in a home, because stays are not permanent, giving guests the chance to learn about new types of art and about themselves and what they like in the process. And as Elizabeth Lowrey, principal of Elkus Manfredi Architects and a vice chair of the show says, there is a big desire for diversity in hospitality design that is creating spaces “rich with narrative.”
“Millenials spend money on experience and they seek authentic connection and the more we can achieve this through design, the greater the memory can be,” she explains.
“Our designs are about respecting the heritage or legacy of place while welcoming the zeitgeist of the future,” she says, and shouted out the American folk art from Stephen Score, Inc., decorative wallpaper panels from Carrolle Thibaut-Pomerantz and carved sconces by Ghiró Studio at booth fan-favorite Donzella as just a few examples that can help her build up projects that do just that.
Perry Sayles, founder of Perry Sayles Interior Design and member of the show’s interior design committee saw a move by many away from the sleekly modern and high finished and toward handcrafted, or hand-sculpted work.
“One installation that really struck me was metal work by William Hunt Diederich, shown at Bernard Goldberg. There’s a lot of interest in his work and the metal craft lately and you also saw that in a way at Maison Gerard. They started out doing a lot of classic French furniture but now they’re using more and more new artists,” such as UK-based Mark Brazier-Jones, who’s torchiere standing lamps of crafted metal with crystal were featured at this year’s booth.
Loebel Modern showed coffee tables from the LaVerne Brothers that were less of their typically manufactured look and much more sculpted. Ambient sculpture at Lost City Arts (another fan favorite amongst attendees) can be touched to make noise, promoting an actual, physical interaction with a guest’s surroundings.
“All of these are focused pieces you want to highlight in entrances or lobbies,” Sayles says.
Ray Ehscheid, principal at IA Interior Architects, would place “the dynamic and luxurious options from Peter Pap Oriental Rugs in dizzying layers across a lobby floor. These modern layers would be both pure elegance and fun in a Gucci-esque way.”
“Decorative elements from James Infante’s astonishing collection of objects from the Wiener Werkstatte would be delightful highlighted in vitrines for discovery amidst a posh restaurant space. And my favorite Harry Bertoia sculpture (Cones, 1961) from Jonathan Boos resting on an elevated back bar behind a reception desk would keep me at check in for hours, mesmerized by both its elegance and rough-hewn texture,” he says.
All of the above would achieve a juxtaposition between various modernist genres when applied to a hotel and its various amenities, and that conversation between pieces creates conversation amongst guests. And that’s what makes The Winter Show aspirational: the celebration of different points of view, what some might call the definition of American comfort. “All of this matches what is happening in hospitality design,” says Lowrey. “One size or style does not fit all—it’s about choice!”