Prescription: Design Therapy


Apartment Therapy Design Evenings at ABC Carpet are a bright spot in the design scene here – the incandescent lighting flowing through the oversized glasses of wine, the luxurious mishmash of couches and chairs, and a packed room of enthusiastic design and decor citizens smiling in their camaraderie.

It couldn’t be more fun, more lively. But as I looked around, I wondered, what exactly is this scene?

Coming from Europe where there’s a massive design presence to here where there are so many lovers of beauty and talented creative minds of every ilk, I’ve starting to see a distinction between Europe and Asia’s definition of design – the beautiful and functional and functionally beautiful object  - and what design is in the U.S.

First, just to get it out of the way, yes there is the design awareness made possible by Steve Jobs and Apple Computers. There’s Fast Company’s championing of design thinking and design in business. But for the lovers of design festivals and design schools, furniture design, and manufacturing, the individual maker and craftsman, there is a big empty silence filled only by ICFF and it’s satellite shows.

New York is largely about Decor and Shelter. It’s Design Sponge and Etsy. Pinterest mood boards and Decor 8. It’s decorating tips and DIY. It’s interior design and real estate lust.

I love decor. I do. I mean where else are you going to put your design but within some sort of decor? Decor can be very practical and personal at the same time. Hey, even I found myself doing a DIY project for the first time and I’m pretty proud of it.

See? Here it is.

From this

To This

I found an old ugly beat up nightstand on the street and went out and bought some white high gloss paint, a bottle of Mod Podge, some paper from Paper Presentation and found endless how-to sites to make sure I didn’t screw the whole thing up.

Pretty cool, right?

But I’m not a designer. I would never call myself that. So there you go. You’ve got design and you have decor. America is about decor.

I really enjoyed what Maxwell, the founder of Apartment Therapy had to say when I asked about the state of American design (which meant where the hell is American design?) because it was clear that he cares about design as much as I do. He told me that it’s hard to nurture design here because manufacturing has left America. I told him about my experience in Europe and he said “yeah, Europe’s ahead of us.” So in our haste to automate and simplify everything, to sell everything and consume everything, to consolidate everything and to watch the bottom line on everything, we forgot about design. Not good. And honestly, not very modern. I think all of this DIY activity is just another sign of how desperately we need design leadership. It’s not just about dressing things up but making things that are truly beautiful, thoughtful and reflective. Right now, the design landscape is practical and commercial, not gutsy. It doesn’t marry inventiveness and innovation with reality. Design can be the perfect summation of right and left brain and, at the risk of sounding lofty, hope for the future. It’s a visual manifestation of spirit, intelligence, and hope. In other words, design is more than a gorgeous bedspread with eclectic throw pillows.

The last Apartment Therapy talk I attended was a few weeks back. It was with the very popular and very personable Deborah Needleman, the founding editor of Domino magazine who has gone on to start a beautiful style magazine at the Wall Street Journal. I was a subscriber of Domino. In fact, it was the very last magazine I subscribed to before moving to Paris at the end of 2006. Domino was so pretty and useful and collectible where nothing else really was. I was tired of the stuffy celebraphotog-generated nonsense, the Vogues and Visionnaires. I was tired of being talked down to and dictated to. Domino was different. It wasn’t ‘design’ but it was great. She herself admitted that while she loves the practical application of decor – she’s coming out with a book about making your home ‘cozy’ – she ‘doesn’t know anything about design’. It’s hard to wrap my head around but I think ultimately I know what she means. I just hope the dialogue will open up and decor-lovers will also start to see just what design is and how much value it has.

Just imagine, a New York with a design scene as robust as London.. Heaven!

(It looks like our company Show Love may be doing some yet-to-be-announced work with the American Design Club led by the effervescent designer and design advocate Kiel Mead so more excitement to come!)

-Chauncey Zalkin


Apartment Therapy
Decor 8
Design Sponge

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