For its 2012 DreamHome, the Washington Design Center asked a handful of young interior designers to take inspiration for residential spaces from works of craft. Not just from any crafters, but a group of artists whose works are set to be showcased this summer in a Smithsonian exhibition, "40 Under 40: Craft Futures."
What the room decors and the craft creations have in common is that their authors all began their careers after 9/11, and they brought with them a new, more earnest sensibility.
"What you have are artists who are grasping at bigger issues in a society that is changing rapidly," said Nicholas R. Bell, who is curating the exhibit at the Renwick Gallery that opens July 20. The interior designers chose from 70 pieces that will appear in that show, and a photograph of their selection hangs in each room.
"You are seeing reactions to what is going on in our culture and a need not just to make something pretty, but something that gives back, that serves a purpose," said Bell, who predicted that his artisans will be "completely blown away" by how the interior designers reinterpreted their work.
In contrast, the Design Center's Jennifer Sergent said the newbie designers, chosen from among those recognized each year as "designers to watch," are taking their cues from the comfort of the past, and then bringing those patterns and ideas into the present.
"There are more graphic patterns, more bold colors," said Sergent, the marketing director for the Design Center, where the DreamHome exhibit will be on display until Nov. 30. "But there is a new sensibility in this new generation of designers. They are paying homage to the past, but blowing it up, in a sense, and making it entirely their own."
The idea to introduce these two disciplines and see what might emerge makes so much sense, Bell wondered why somebody hadn't thought of it before.
"These [craft pieces] are familiar and cozy to us, but then to see them through someone else's eyes — that is magical," said Bell.
The leap from craft piece to room in this show is indeed magical, and not at all linear. The designers used the items they chose to evoke, to echo, to hint at, to trigger or to dream on.
For her craft inspiration, Catherine Hailey of Hailey Design, selected a lounge chair made of slats from the Coney Island boardwalk. The base of the lounge chair is made of struts that resemble a rollercoaster's frame. The elements of her dining room design evoke the rollercoaster, too, and its curves and angles.
In a black-and-white bedroom, interior designer William McGovern of Washington has positioned a lurid red four-poster bed. But it is the wallcovering and drapes that entice, sweeping across the room to wrap themselves around a female mannequin, trapping it in this room in the same way that a woman is trapped inside the upholstered egg created by Stephanie Liner and chosen by McGovern for his inspiration.
Andy Palko's blown-glass spinning wheel, which is functional and will be in use during the Renwick show, was the inspiration for the glass and crystal and the circular patterns that dominate the drawing room designed by Kori Keyser of La Plata.
The laser-cut plywood "origami" chair by Christy Oates inspired interior designer Shanon Munn of McLean, Va., to create "an office Vera Wang would love." The room's angles, which reflect the chair's angles, are softened by curves in a chair and the shining fabric colors by warm neutrals in wall coverings and window treatments. All of the textures are layered like one of Wang's famous wedding gowns.
But the showstopper might be the "Mad Men" lounge designed by Jeff Akseizer and Jamie Brown. It is inspired by Shawn Smith's piece — one-centimeter cubes in black and orange arranged to look like a campfire.
Akseizer said he immediately thought of the 1960s, when the country was burning with new ideas.
The lounge is rendered in black and white, and modernity — in the form of an acrylic piano — is paired with artifacts that include a vintage black rotary phone, an old typewriter and even 1960s advertising textbooks.
"We felt the space needed to be paired with an era where ideas were sparked over cultural change and an explosive amount of creativity," said Akseizer.
"Once these [crafts] are out in the world, anyone is free to take it and make it their own," said Bell of the Renwick.