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International Interior Design Association

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Remaking the Box

By Kim Lande

Like any other art form, product design requires the proper platform.

“Hospitality design is like a stage set,” says designer John Caldwell. “It requires the highest level of showmanship I can think of, other than theater.” That showmanship was evident at the IIDA/Hospitality Design product design competition 2003, where the best products in the industry pirouetted onto the world stage.

Take a look at these winning products and the novel design approach behind them to gain inspiration in your own creative work.


Caldwell is a man enthralled by details. When he first conceived Opus (formerly called Silver II) for Venamen Collections, he had no idea it would be a stacking chair. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to get these two forms to fit?’ I took a ribbon running around a 90-degree corner and wanted it to flow in uniform thickness, fit together and stack. I love that shape, junction and detail.”

The ensuing chair is sculpture in its simplest, most graceful form. Opus solves the age-old problem in hospitality venues of where to put unused bistro chairs. Stacked together, the chairs form geometric pillars that are too intriguing to hide.

“I think there are a lot of things that are difficult as a designer. The premier one is simplicity, done with some kind of elegance or form that makes sense,” Caldwell says. “Opus is simply that. Design has won when we purify something like a simple stacking chair.”

Like Caldwell, Mark Tyrie of Barlow Tyrie, Moorestown, N.J., learned that what first appears simple often is not. Tyrie designed a frame of elliptical aluminum supporting dozens of thin teak slats. The resulting lounge is so airy that it appears to float. The combination of teak and aluminum in an outdoor lounge is not revolutionary, but Virage Sun Lounge rejects the characteristic heaviness of teak.

“There are a lot of different ways of looking at the same thing,” Tyrie says. “Many things worked and lots didn’t in this project. The Virage has encouraged me to explore all ideas, even if they’re ultimately not used.”

Veteran furniture designer Richard Frinier also is known for looking at materials through different lenses. He created Daydream using Hularo weaving fiber for Dedon.

Frinier wanted to craft an “experience” that just happens to be furniture. “While products must possess a functional and aesthetic appeal, there must be a sense that the product is contributing to the quality of our environments and lives,” he says. “Good design is experiential for all of us.”

Inspired by a magic flying carpet, the Daydream bed is awash with fluid curves that suggest flight. Removable side panels make it a bed, chaise or four-sided cocoon with poles to support flowing fabric above.


Working consistently with products and materials, interior designers often drive product development by finding novel applications for traditional materials. This is the case for two product winners in the applied finishes category. Both were developed because interior designers requested them.

Nancy Jackson, President of Architectural Systems Inc. and developer of the Best of Competition award winner, Woven Woods, was approached by several interior designers who sought cost-effective alternatives to expensive gouged, lined or guilloche-worked wood panels. Collaborating with Italian manufacturer and designer Benoit Marotte, the resulting concept broke new ground.

By weaving wood together, Marotte explored how mixing wood veneers would capture light in different ways. “We created a special effect that creates a third dimension [in woods],” Marotte says. The product is a dramatic, textural wood panel that allows hospitality designers to infuse unpredictability into their designs: mounting curved walls or rounded bar fronts, for example.

Tubular Wovens leather, designed for Garrett Leather, also was a response to requests by interior designers, who wanted a braided leather product to wrap around small objects like table legs, hand railings and door pulls. Though wrapped leather finishes are not uncommon, Tubular Wovens has expanded possibilities for hospitality designers by offering a ready-made product that is simple to slide onto tubular shapes.

Wall Coverings

Scribble by DesignTex makes the 90-degree angle an illusion. Executed using an exclusive three-dimensional engraving method called lenticular marquetry, Scribble jumps off the wall with three-dimensional depth and light. The technique is sparking a new line of wall coverings as well as an upcoming book.

Though not a “math person,” designer Patty Madden says mathematics are the foundation of most of her designs. “It all starts with a tiny element that I put into a landscape to correspond with other elements,” Madden says. “Math is so intertwined with art. There are infinite combinations of patterns that turn and rotate to relate to other elements in the design.”

Textural patterns in wall coverings such as Scribble are breaking ground in hotels around the world, giving walls multilateral dimension as never before. But a new market-driven desire for sustainable products also is changing the face of walls.

Hammered Metal by DesignTex is blazing sustainable trails. Made of Duraprene, an alternative to vinyl constructed of 50 percent recycled fibers, it provides an innovative solution for hospitality designers charged with creating an environment that’s both earth-friendly and aesthetically appealing.

Inspired by an antique tin vase with a hammered pattern, the idea was to create distinctive texture that could adapt to many environments. Yet Duraprene poses challenges to its designers.

“Working with the limitations of the material can result in surprising or unique qualities,” says Carol Derby, Director of Research and Development at DesignTex. “It’s very much the case with Hammered Metal, where the embossing takes to the Duraprene less like vinyl and more like tin. It makes us question what it’s made of and how it’s made.”


In New Zealand, a country of 50 million sheep and 4 million people, wool rules. And as the sustainability movement picks up speed, products such as Maxwell Rodgers’ Boucle are coming into greater demand. Designer Tracy March created an organic design “that’s not so disposable,” she says. “It’s important to design products that retain their beauty and don’t wear out.”

March says texture was key to Boucle, the first throw to receive recognition in the hospitality arena. “I had the idea of mixing a lot of boiled wools to create upholstery that was lofty, luxurious and soft,” she says. “I might be taking a walk on a beach or a forest and see a shape that inspires me, and it becomes something.”

Eva Cross, who designed Bogesunds Fabrics’ Web Trevira chenille upholstery, understands the power of nature to compel good design and to reflect our increasingly complex society. “Our lives are not simple,” says Cross, a designer with Bogesunds of Sweden. “Our nature is not simple. Our whole world is quite complicated, and so is design. However, in my mind, a designed object should contain balance first. Just like life, a struggle for balance is always present.”

That struggle isn’t reflected in Web’s patterns. “This is a design that makes you automatically feel pleasant-minded,” Cross says. “It’s not disturbing your soul.”

Web intrinsically blends strong construction with a bold range of color, texture and patterns, making it practical for many applications.

Furthering the argument for practicality and sensibility in fabric design, Gerry Kane says cost matters. “We need to create innovative designs that are priced fairly,” he says. So when Kane created Shazam for Samuelson/ Chatelaine, he worked to mimic an Austrian shade. “I found a machine that made the look I wanted and played around with it.” At $8.95 a yard, Kane’s award illustrates that great things happen when value and artistry collide.


Creating a timeless design often is a product designer’s ultimate ambition. Robin Tankersley, designer of the Excelsior Collection of carpeting by Masland Contracts, knows how hard it can be to honor the past with a cutting-edge product.

“The idea behind Excelsior is to incorporate some very traditional old world looks with current transitional looks,” Tankersley says. “The term ‘traditional’ can often be associated with ‘stodgy.’ I think traditional shapes and forms are comforting and make a person feel more at home in unfamiliar surroundings.”

Tankersley’s designs are considered traditional in genre, yet the tufting technologies and patterns are ultra-modern. “Excelsior is an example of how new fiber selections and equipment are allowing carpet designers to explore as never before,” she says.


While some product designers are inspired by tradition, others are sparked by pure unadulterated invention. Former technical recruiter Robert Mayer of DecoLav had a vision when he and his sister, Nicolette Mayer, concocted a drain mechanism that made bathroom sinks removable.

“We’re big proponents of do-it-yourself solutions, and this allows people to avoid calling a plumber to change a sink,” says Mayer, President and CEO of DecoLav. “Vessels are becoming decorative accessories, rather than just plumbing fixtures.”

With Mayer’s innovation, hotels and restaurants now can change sinks almost as readily as they would a light bulb. Another application makes housekeepers rejoice: Hard to reach crevices in sinks can be cleaned with a quick twist of a screw.

Be Bold

In hard times, hospitality design becomes safer, less daring. With prosperity, hospitality designers grow bolder and take greater risks. The good economic news: Designers are taking more risks.

“Hospitality design is moving toward prosperity again,” says Patty Madden, who designed Scribble by DesignTex. “That means we’re moving into a time that’s much bolder and less restrained, with colors that are more vibrant and patterns that are more daring.”

However, bold does not imply impractical. Now more than ever, product and interior designers feel compelled to create products with purpose, especially when it comes to the environment. “The future is an attitude,” says Tracy March, designer of Boucle for Maxwell Rogers. “Our hospitality customers are becoming more environmentally aware, spec-ing products that are environmentally friendly. This is a very fragile planet. In the future, we will be even more aware of where products come from, and that will be reflected in the products we create.”

To solve problems like sustainability, human ingenuity is our greatest hope, says Richard Frinier, designer of Daydream by Dedon. “New materials and new ways to use old and new materials are being discovered and developed every day. The most important evolutionary process in design is innovation. Innovation is central to emotional connection. A connection that is vitally important in hospitality environments.”