Design Fairs are Alive and Well on West Coast
The WestEdge Design Fair is back after a pandemic pause, a fantastic West Coast design show with a focus on inspiration as much as information. The event was held last week at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica.
If the size of the crowds was any indication, it appears as if the West Coast finally has a design event it can get behind. The opening night party Thursday was attended by nearly 2,500 design professionals and the notoriously finicky California design community filled the airplane hanger along with nearly 200 exhibitors — most bespoke high-design makers and small-scale manufacturers hoping to make a mark with the West Coast A&D community.
It is a regional show to be sure, nothing like NeoCon that draws an international group or even the recently completed EDspaces and Healthcare Design Expo, which both attract a national audience.
Still, it was an impressive event — a blend of interesting manufacturers and spot-on programming and panels that attracted designers to the event despite the awful traffic they braved to get there.
“I’m so pleased by the turnout and the excitement surrounding the show,” said Troy Durst, one of the event’s organizers. “The West Coast design community is embracing WestEdge and we couldn’t be happier.”
The event was so successful (the exhibition hall was completely full) that Durst is planning a second WestEdge Design Fair in 2024 in Dallas.
Many of the makers and manufacturers exhibiting were there to establish a foothold on the West Coast. The show included everything from furniture makers, flooring companies, tile makers, wall paper firms and kitchen and bath companies.
The few furniture makers were mostly small, niche companies. Many specialize in residential with some work in hospitality, though all of them said contract and hospitality were growing markets.
A good example was Brian Boggs, a wood furniture craftsman from Asheville, N.C. who was showing off his gorgeous hand-made products. “We are a residential manufacturer, but we are getting into hospitality a lot more,” said Boggs of his namesake company. “We are also seeing a lot of interest from home office customers and designers looking to outfit c-suites.”
He recently completed a project at a Houston law firm that purchased a few dozen of his Sonus chairs to replace Herman Miller seating. The Sonus chair is a wood chair designed originally for musicians (guitarist Steve Vai is a fan of the Sonus chair).
Most of the furniture at the design fair represented bespoke or one-off furniture like the swing chair designed by Minarc, an architectural firm that started in Iceland and relocated to Santa Monica. Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir said the swing chair, which resembles at rain drop, was designed for a hotel lobby in Iceland.
Other companies were showing off innovative new products like Willis, a cladding company that was explaining the benefits of its Lapitec material. Lapitec is made from ground granite that is baked into a solid form. Copper veins that are baked into the material give it the look of marble. It is a sintered stone product that uses a matrix of minerals heated (or sintered) to form a solid, impenetrable mass. Its surface cannot be etched, scratched, burned, or stained. It offers superior durability to quartz, said Kellie Canning, who works in sales for Willis.
Other companies like Belwith Keeler Decor Solutions were showing off components. Belwith Keeler is a Grand Rapids-based manufacturer who has been making pulls, handles and knobs since 1893.
The design fair featured outdoor furniture as well, a important design consideration in sunny California. Outer is a Los Angeles-based outdoor furniture company that works on both residential and hospitality projects, said Hanna McLaughlin, who works in sales for the company.
The company appeared on Shark Tank (where its owners received an investment offer, but ultimately turned it down). The company has no showrooms. Instead, it uses what McLaughlin called a “Neighborhood Showroom” system that allows would-be customers to see Outer’s furniture in actual spaces where it is being used at people’s homes or hospitality spaces.
“It allows customers to see how the future wears and holds up in actual outdoor situations,” she said.
IIDA gave out awards for products and booths. One of the winners was Deap Design for a cork stool. Its Pill Desk, a uniquely shaped desk with drawers that swing open from the side also turned heads at the event. Erich Slothower said it was the first show the company Deap Design ever displayed products. The Sausalito, Calf. industrial design firm is looking for a manufacturer to partner with to roll out the design and matching dresser, along with cork and wood chairs and stools.
A show in Los Angeles wouldn’t be complete without a celebrity speaker. Designer Bobby Berks from Queer Eye was part of a panel — Behind the Scenes: Living Design Showhouse — that outlined his work and the work of other designers on a virtual show house. He was joined on the panel by Laiza Cors from Embello and MA Allen of MA Allen Interiors.
Discussions also included a hybrid work panel led by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl Durst that also included Bill Bouchey of Gensler, Sarah Devine from Revel Architecture & Design, Scott Parker of Studio One Eleven, Ashley Richardson of EYRC Architects and Bjorn Schrader of Abramson Architects.