The Art of Arranging

Chicago Tribune
The Art of Arranging
By Tiffany Meyers 

Author’s Note: Here’s why David Jimenez is cool. His  talent and career as a visual merchandiser is so out-sized that, if he wanted, he could get away with being a little too cool for school. Not him. He’s such a good guy—and more down-to-earth than the green grass underfoot. I met him (telephonically) while writing this article for the Chicago Tribune’s HOME section.

I asked him to draw from his years as a visual merchandiser to help the Trib’s readers create tablescapes that look artful, not haphazard. He delivered. Check out David’s site to learn more about him.

Some people can toss a piece of driftwood, two books and a lamp on a coffee table and end up with a camera-ready display. The rest of us rearrange the same objects (endlessly) and come up with the anarchy of Nana’s knickknacks.

Displaying accessories is one of the trickier points of styling any room. How much is too much? And too little? Which objects are meant for which table? For David Jimenez, a genius-level visual merchandiser and gifted decorator, tablescaping is the difference between a house and a home.

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Architects Rescue a Renovation Gone Awry

Chicago Tribune
To the rescue: A botched renovation opens the door to a new family home
By Tiffany Meyers, July 12, 2009

It’s a story that starts, as any page-turner  should, with a moment of high drama. Thanksgiving weekend 2004: Elissa Morgante and Fred Wilson hear a knock on the door of their Wilmette home. It’s their neighbor.

He’s in over his head, he says. Way over. And he wants out. More specifically, he wants out of the renovation he has undertaken on his house across the street, a do-it-yourself gut job that has gone horribly wrong. The-whole-house-shakes-when-you-jump wrong. He wants to know: Can his architect neighbors think of anyone who might take it off his hands?

The founders of the award-winning, Evanston-based architecture and interior design firm Morgante Wilson Architecture, whose residential projects (there are eight on this block alone) range in style from Georgian to ultramodern, head across the street to survey the scene.

With the entire back wall removed, the home can’t be resuscitated. It’s nearly tipping over. But Morgante and Wilson know that a host of developers would be pleased to buy the land and throw up a new McEyesore in its place. And, from across the street, guess who would have the best view? The couple’s intervention seemed only natural.

What happens next, in this old house tale, has to do with reinvention and real life. Not to mention a love story.

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The Resurgence of Hand-Made Design

HOW Magazine
A Show of Hand

By Tiffany Meyers

Recently, designer Kevin Grady came across a cardboard box. In it: Some of his work from the early 1990s-and a copy of Emigre 29. Published in 1994, that issue of Emigre featured a 12-page insert by the British collective The Designers Republic.

“I have to admit, I was kind of shocked,” says Grady, Partner of design firm Grady&Metcalf and Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director of Lemon. “When that issue came out, I remember being totally blown away by it. And it was one of the most celebrated issues of the magazine.” (Illustration by Janice Kun.)

No doubt, he concedes, it did break great big swaths of new ground. But in hindsight, Grady realizes that it was also a product of its times: That was a period in which designers were piling layers upon layers of vector art, stretching type, and throwing enormous ellipses around everything-just because they could.

“The typography of that era was very much about itself,” he says. “It was very apparent that designers were just figuring out the computer. It was like, ‘Wow, I can stretch type. So that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

One turn of the century later, designers have fully figured out every feature and filter. The novelty of the Mac—the thrill of stretching stuff they couldn’t previously layer-has worn off. And in the past few years, they’ve rediscovered the process of working by hand, producing a marked surge of graphic design that incorporates diverse elements of handwork.

Some are using letterpress and silkscreen technologies to produce small-batch or one-off products like invitations, posters, and handmade paper. Others are feeding their handwork-like hand-drawn or painted type and illustrations, mixed media, and collages-back into technology, scanning and manipulating those elements in order to scale up the handwork for large print runs.

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Building a Biennial

Step Inside Design
The Inaugural Chicago International Poster Biennial
By Tiffany Meyers

In the exhibition space of Crown Hall, Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, a group of young women weave in and out of the crowd. It’s hard not to stare; they’re all wearing chic, vibrant mini-dresses whose similar A-line cuts can’t be coincidental. They look like a girl gang of fashionistas in coordinated party outfits.In fact, they’re part of the exhibition, which is kicking off the first-ever Chicago International Poster Biennial (CIPB), a free-to- enter, open-call poster competition and exhibition.

On the walls that evening: Award-winning posters designed by the biennial’s 11 jurors, some of the most celebrated designers in the world. On the models: Dresses made of fabric on which a different juror’s poster has been printed.

Here walks Michel Bouvet’s 2007 poster for the Arles photography festival. And there, in strappy heels, click-clacks John Massey’s famous 1978 Eames Soft Pad Group poster for Herman Miller. In all there are 12 dresses, the extra one representing a poster designed for the CIPB itself by Yann Legendre, who launched the biennial with designer and studio partner Lance Rutter. It’s hard to imagine how she pulled it off, but Rutter’s wife Miki Shim-Rutter made the dresses—a silent auction for them brought in just over $3600 that night—in two weeks.

But then, the CIPB itself begs the same question: How in the name of graphic design did these two practitioners, who have a fulltime staff of three (including themselves), manage to draw 1600 entries from 460 designers without a lick of marketing—and despite efforts from the angry gods of fundraising to thwart their goals? In no particular order: Tenacity, freshly forged connections and the kind of blind faith without which no one would ever undertake to do the impossible.

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A Show of Emotion

STEP Magazine
A Show of Emotion:
Review of the STEP’s Design 100 Awards Show
By Tiffany Meyers

In an era troubled by economic, environmental & social distress, designers lean toward messages of compassion.

In one way or another, each of the five judges of the STEP Design 100 described this body of winning design entries as exquisite. But those who worship at the altar of the avant guard will want to take a seat now: It doesn’t happen to be the riskiest body of work these judges have seen in their collective awards show experience.  

“We’re at a place in time where relatively simple and conservative but tasteful approaches are more the norm,” says judge Kevin Grady, editor-in-chief and creative director of Lemon magazine and partner at Grady & Metcalf in Concord, Mass. “And sometimes that’s OK. The goal of design isn’t to do wacky things just to see what you can get away with. A lot of the winning work wasn’t selected because it was necessarily groundbreaking, but it was very beautifully done, very confident work. I’d say that was more a hallmark of the show and its winners than anything else.”

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The Most Influential Industrial Designers
Tastemakers Series: Industrial Designers
By Tiffany Meyers, January 2005 

We live in a world of stuff. It accumulates in our homes, garages and offices. We tuck it into nightstands and glove compartments. Occasionally we throw it out, but, inevitably, we go out and buy more stuff. In fact, we’re buying more stuff every year. In 2004, Americans spent $987.8 billion on durable goods such as motor vehicles, furniture and household equipment, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But even in this cycle of gather, dispose, repeat, there are objects that stand out. From the new BMW 7-Series to candy-colored iMacs, these are the products whose ingenuity captures our imaginations and whose lines catch our eye. These are the chairs that straighten our slouches, the containers that prevent us from spilling on our laps, the handy tools that are triumphs of form and function. They are the vehicles that transport us along roads–and even through the stratosphere–in comfort and style. “Good industrial design identifies unmet needs,” says Alistair Hamilton, vice president of customer experience and design for Symbol Technologies in Holtsville, N.Y., “and then fulfills those needs.”

Industrial designers must draw from a range of competencies–including ethnography, engineering, ergonomics, manufacturing and marketing, among others–to create everything from spaceships to sippy cups, interiors to interfaces.

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Meet Barbara Turf, Ceo, Crate and Barrel

PINK Magazine
Crate Expectations: A profile of Barbara Turf
By Tiffany Meyers |  December 2008

If not for a few details – the cash registers, the sales associates – I’d swear I was a guest in Barbara Turf’s home getting a tour of the rooms she’s lovingly decorated.

Strolling through the Crate and Barrel home store adjacent to suburban Chicago’s Northbrook Court shopping mall, near the company’s headquarters, the new CEO and I stop intermittently to admire the things she loves most – textiles from India, a French table of solid oak. As in any home, her relationship to these pieces, many of which hold reminders of her family, is deeply personal. “My daughter just bought this sofa for herself,” Turf says as we sink into the Huntley, a couch with clouds instead of cushions. “You’ll have to tell me if you think it’s comfortable.”

Of course, in many ways, Crate and Barrel is Turf ’s home, one she helped build over the last 40 years. In one of the highest-profile succession stories of the year, Gordon Segal, who opened the first Crate and Barrel in 1962 with his wife, Carole, named Turf the company’s new CEO in May.

In one of the highest-profile succession stories of the year, Gordon Segal, who opened the first Crate and Barrel in 1962 with his wife, Carole, named Turf the company’s new CEO in May. With eight new Crate and Barrel home stores up and running this year, including the first international foray, Turf is leading with the same commitment to innovation that’s prompted Segal to describe his longtime No. 2, now the company’s No. 1, as nothing short of a “retail visionary.”

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Rural Studio Builds a Tower

Metropolis Magazine
Bird’s-eye View
By Tiffany Meyers | February 2007

Author’s Note: One afternoon, I put in an out-of-the-blue call to the director of Auburn University’s Rural Studio. “Are your students working on any interesting projects?” Were they ever.

At Auburn University’s renowned architecture program, the Rural Studio, students turn trash into treasure as a matter of course. In their buildings for residents of Alabama’s Black Belt, glass bottles become windows and stacked carpet tiles serve as insulated walls. But a recent project–part of the school’s collaboration with Perry County to revitalize a historic park–takes the tradition of using reclaimed materials to vertiginous new heights.

The idea to build a birding tower had been brewing among students since 2001, when the Rural Studio began working with Perry Lakes Park, built by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. But it wasn’t until 2004-once separate teams had completed a pavilion, outhouses, and a bridge that provided access to the proposed tower site-that the park was ready for a student team to take on the project.

“We had no plan, so we began walking the trails,” team member Natalie Butts says. “When the bridge team saw us, they said, ‘Hey, have you checked out that abandoned fire tower by the side of the road?'”

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Design Your Home Office on a Budget

Entrepreneur’s StartUps
Design Your Home Office Space
By Tiffany Meyers | March 2009

Among the benefits of working from home: your 32-second commute, pajamas and the freedom to create an environment that works for you, not the common denominator. Checking in with interior stylist Amy Lenahan of Chicago’s design i interiors, we located two lackluster office spaces with one goal in mind: break all the rules of corporate décor without breaking the bank. 

Don’t know where to start? Follow your heart. Commit to an item you love and build the room around it. For curtains, Ikea’s Fredrika fabric ($5.99 per yard) paired with a more basic red fabric, the Minna ($6.99 per yard), set our hearts aflutter, so we carried the eye-popping reds throughout the rest of the room.  “In a home office, where privacy isn’t such an issue, I advise clients not to hide windows behind heavy drapes,” Lenahan says. To maximize natural light, mount your curtains on the outside of the frame. (While we’re on the subject, Ikea’s Täljare curtain rod set, $14.99, couldn’t make curtain hanging easier.)

“The color red speeds up our heart rate and increases our pulse,” says Kate Smith, founder of color consulting firm Sensational Color and member of The Color Marketing Group, an international color trend forecasting organization. “It’s good for an office because it encourages action and confidence. It makes us feel physically empowered–and even the boldest entrepreneurs sometimes need a little of that.”

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Heavenly Touches Make Condo Worth Wait

Chicago Tribune
South Loop condo
By Tiffany Meyers | January 18, 2009

Author’s Note: My editors at the Chicago Tribune sent me off with a notebook and realtor, viewing three condos within specific parameters. My task was to write about the one I loved.

Wouldn’t you know it? After being presented with two perfectly viable options, the condo that finally turns my knees to jelly doesn’t actually exist. Not, at any rate, until summer 2009, when The Roosevelt Collection will start delivering its 342 one- and two-bedroom condos, priced from the $300Ks to the $650Ks.

With Realtor Lindsay Fath of Century 21 Sussex & Reilly’s Lowe Group, I spend an afternoon viewing South Loop lofts priced at $450,000 or less. Our first stop: A condo that needs slightly more love, I’m afraid, than I have to give. The second option is … very nice. So I poke around: Nice view. Nice appliances. Stainless steel and so on. But I wonder: If I’m going to pretend to spend $450,000 of my hard-earned play money on a condo, is “nice” really the best I can do?

Maybe. But Fath and I persist. Parking her car in a gravel lot at 709 S. Clark St., we crunch up to the sales center for The Roosevelt Collection. By “sales center,” I mean “trailer.” We exchange a look.

But this trailer is very much not the kind you’d see on “My Name is Earl.” In the center of the space, an architectural mock-up commands our attention. It displays a miniaturized version of the forthcoming South Loop development, which will sit off Roosevelt Road, bounded by Clark and Wells Streets. With noses pressed to the Plexiglas guard, Fath and I agree that the tiny cars along the boulevards could not be more adorable.

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Small Space Wins This Square Footage Addict’s Heart

Chicago Tribune
“Sell it to me”: House & Homes
By Tiffany Meyers | November 16, 2009

Author’s Note: If you can’t buy your own deluxe apartment in the sky, you may as well write about them. When I viewed condos on assignment for the Trib, I fell for the “cozy” one.

If there were a detox center for square-footage addicts, I’d admit myself. I lived for years in a Manhattan studio, which housed my entire inventory of family heirlooms—a futon and microwave—only with some doing. So when I moved into my comparatively palatial Chicago apartment, I got hooked on space. “I can fit two couches in my new place,” I told a New York friend, conspiratorially, “and I don’t sleep on either of them.”

But I surprised myself recently. When Realtor David Panozzo, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, and I visited three lofts, all in the Southport Corridor and listed under $450,000,I fell under the influence of the first and smallest we saw. True, one property was easy to eliminate. The 1,200-square-foot condo was so angular (imagine a slice of pie, only bigger, and without the fruit filling) that I’d have needed algorithms to address the problem of sofa placement.

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When Designers Moonlight

Communication Arts
Advertising imitates art
By Tiffany Meyers | 2005

At some point in history, the advertising industry decided to turn an adjective into a noun and formally call its practitioners “creatives.” Aside from bewildering people on the outside, the title aptly describes a type of person inclined to explore diverse forms of expression in a lifetime, and not just those that move product.

More than a few creatives manage to produce a body of art even as they build successful careers in advertising. Invariably, one influences the other.

Creative director Tom Lichtenheld is also the author/illustrator of several acclaimed children’s books, including “Everything I Know About Pirates” (Simon & Schuster, 2000), “Everything I Know About Monsters” (Simon & Schuster, 2002) and “What Are YOU So Grumpy About?” (Little, Brown & Company, 2003). Two more titles, “Everything I Know About Cars” (Simon & Schuster) and “What’s With This Room?” (Little, Brown & Company) are slated for publication in 2005.

Lichtenheld—who began as a fine-art student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, then realized he might want to buy a car one day—served as a creative director for BMW and United Airlines at Fallon, Minneapolis, when he stumbled into book illustration by accident: His young nephew asked if he might draw him a pirate or two. Lichtenheld more than satisfied his requirements as an uncle, completing a pirate book—his first—with Fallon’s support.

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