- November 18, 2019
DESIGN DISCOVERY – NEW YORK
This past year PlaidFox launched our Design Discovery Program to foster our designers and their process. We fly a member of our team to a new destination (past trips have included New York, Scotland and Morocco), we give them a visual itinerary of what we’d like them to accomplish and the idea is just for them to fill their subconscious with as many experiences, lessons and images as possible. Replenishing the inspiration stocks is essential to fuelling creativity. We sent Kelly on a trip to New York and she has written an article about her trip.
My solo vacation to New York was a discovery trip to search out creative inspiration high and low. I didn’t have a set schedule, I had a hit list. From architecture to design to art to improv, I had four days to fill my boots, run around the city and see as much as possible.
Everything in New York has a history. And because I was on my own, I could see a building I found interesting and go stare at it for 15 minutes (which I did, often). This city has Victorian buildings, tudor buildings and brownstones, art deco buildings and skyscrapers, all delightfully mashed together. It’s so eclectic and has so much history in every square inch—all those great details that set them apart from the glass and steel condos I see over and over back home.
The Box Hotel
This is a crazy space. In the lobby, two big archways hold court over three different types of flooring, with traditional light fixtures, different stepped ceiling heights, plus everything is lined in black which highlights the unusual shape. In each of the rooms, I loved the mix of high-end features, like marble and crystal chandeliers, paired with an industrial school-house vibe. You’d go down the hall and there would be tin ceiling tiles painted black with subway tile walls and literal globes hanging from the ceiling. It’s a total mishmash, but it’s put together in a way that’s really well thought out. The old fashioned taxis parked outside were another quirky touch.
East River Ferry (a.k.a. The Bridge Tour)
At Long Island City I took the East River Ferry, which sailed me past the Williamsburg Bridge, then under the Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and offered up stellar views of the city skyline on my way to Dumbo.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
This gorgeous upmarket neighbourhood was so beautiful to walk around in. It’s a protected historical site, with height restrictions on the books and an unfriendly attitude towards skyscrapers. The happy consequence is that the area is covered in trees and multi-coloured brownstones (most built before the Civil War) and townhouses are all stacked together along cobblestone streets.
I spent hours here. I went into every corner of every exhibit. The building itself—a Beaux-Arts-style mix of French Neoclassicism, Gothic and Renaissance elements—was stunning. You walk in and it looks modern, with a two-storey glass pavilion and revolving doors, but then the lobby has a giant brick foyer with terrazzo and glass-block floors. Another highlight for the interior design lovers is the museum’s decorative arts collection, which houses 23 American period rooms, from the 17th to 20th centuries. There’s a whole house from a 17th century Dutch settler, restored and decorated down to the last teacup, as if the family just stepped out to feed the chickens.
While improv, as exciting and surprising as it is, has never directly sparked a design choice in one of the homes I’ve worked on, I strongly believe in the power of being exposed to all forms of creative energies. With improv, it’s not scripted or planned; people are creating things on the fly every second. And watching people do this constantly in a show, this exercises the creative brain and starts turning those rusty wheels in our heads.
The Tweed Courthouse
The Old New York County Courthouse, or Tweed Courthouse, is a circa-1861 building that looks exactly like you’d think an old-timey courthouse would. It’s supported by these classic corinthian columns and has three giant arch doors, a grand set of steps, panels of granite, marble and rusticated stone. The whole building is so intricately carved with crown moulding details and stonework—they just don’t make them like this anymore.
To find this micro art gallery, I had to walk through a weird old industrial building, down a nondescript hallway and open what looked like a bathroom door to find the one-room space. They only had half a dozen pieces in there, which were all very striking, avant garde, boundary-pushing modern paintings and sculptures. I was the only person there, other than the one staff member, and I just loved how this 15-foot by 15-foot room, which had no storefront window, no sign, was a special little pocket of art. Imagine how much more art is possible in a city as big and as full of talent as New York? Sadly, American Medium closed in December, but who knows where it might pop up again. http://www.americanmedium.net/
Grand Central Terminal
It’s an obvious one, but a must for any first-timers. At 35,000 square feet, the main concourse feels enormous—it’s like a whole different world in there. It has a giant domed ceiling and 60-foot-tall arched windows covered in a thick pattern of cast-iron mullions. Because of all the stores and restaurants in there, it’s a funny mix of early 20th century and present day. You’ll see things like an amazing curved marble staircase twisting upwards with an Apple store at the top—that’s hilarious to me.
Moooi is a Dutch furniture and lighting design company known for very off-the-wall, quirky designs, so I was dying to visit their public showroom in New York. It looked more like a modern art gallery, with a sofa displayed standing up on its side (precariously vertical on top of a table), along with a full wall of bird lamps and a stage at the back for a runway show of mixed chairs. You can see the same Moooi pieces that have been or will be debuted in the Milan furniture shows and the staff were eager to show you the complicated processes between their designer chandeliers or how they could turn any photo into a custom rug. Every piece inside is like an art piece, no basic sofas or chairs anywhere.
(Caption option at Moooi: Moooi’s Museum of Extinct Animals series featured different fictional animals that were hybrids of dodos and zebras and other extinct fauna. Each creature had a backstory and Moooi displayed the animals in textured wallpaper designs, rugs and artwork.)
ABC Carpet and Home
There are six floors that make up ABC Carpet and Home’s flagship store, but I spent all of my time on the floor-coverings floor surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of carpets—traditional, modern, wool, silk, bamboo, tribal—they have literally everything you could imagine. One of the realities of living in Canada is that you end up buying a lot of rugs and carpets online, so I loved the opportunity to touch and feel these rugs in person and see what the colours look like in real life. My favourite was probably too weird to put in anyone’s house: it looked a bit Egyptian with bright reds, blues and greens, decorated with embroidered concentric rectangles, little square-shaped llamas running around in circles, strange triangle-headed animals and mini hashtags everywhere. It sounds crazy, but I loved it!
Sleep No More
Sleep No More is a wholly immersive theatre performance that spans five floors in an old hotel. You’re not allowed to take photos, so I only have shots of the cool outdoor tiki bars and gardens at the building’s rooftop bar, but you’ve got to get in there and see it for yourself. As an audience member, you’re led up in groups and dropped off via the elevator onto floors where actors are performing ongoing scenes—and the sets look just like real life. A baby’s room, a dining room, even a dark and creepy graveyard with real fog, and you can just walk around and interact with whatever you want. I always find set design such an interesting sector of interior design. Set designers are creating something that’s for a performance, but it still has to have that level of detail that makes it real and convincing.
I love everything about the Ace Hotel and its effortless Brooklyn vibe. I stopped in at the in-house gastropub, the Breslin, and the design was just such a cool mash-up of things with this fun Wes Anderson feel: lots of forest greens and dark wood, with taxidermy on the walls and classic traditional cabinetry. That mix of traditional elements with contemporary design is so playful and youthful, but it still has a sense of history.
The Woolworth Building
It’s a classic American skyscraper that used to be the tallest building in the world (a record surpassed in 1930), but 60 storeys is nothing to sniff at, and this period of architecture, from 1910 to about 1930s is my absolute favourite. A lot of times that period’s style is very Art Deco, but this one is almost Gothic, with intricate stone carvings and a gorgeous lobby filled with sculptures and mosaics. The doorways are amazing, the doors are amazing, the doorknobs are amazing. There is no detail that’s left untouched.