The 41st Annual Interiors Awards by Contract Magazine

The Great Hall at Cipriani 42nd Street stands ready. Photography courtesy of Contract magazine.

The annual events calendar in our industry changes slowly as events come and go, but for 41 years now, Contract magazine has kicked-started the year with its Interiors Awards breakfast in New York City.

The timing of the gala – being the first on the annual agenda of the commercial interior design community adds to the enthusiasm engendered by the prospect of gathering to honor Contract’s latest Designer of the Year and recognition of outstanding interior design projects in 16 categories.

The event is a great excuse to start drinking at 7:30 am; some people choose coffee.

While it may not be the purpose Contract has in mind for the event, the great fun of seeing and being seen by old friends, new acquaintances and industry notables ranks right up there as the purpose for attending. This year’s honorees were applauded by the approximately 600 people who traveled from around the globe to New York’s Cipriani 42nd Street.

The convivial atmosphere upon arrival at Cipriani is made all the more pleasant by the circulating wait-staff with trays of Mimosa’s and Bloody Mary’s. There was also plenty of self-serve coffee and light hors d’oeuvres on passing trays for those so inclined.

Contract magazine’s Publisher, Karen Donaghy welcomed guests to the 41st edition of the Interiors Awards Breakfast.

Another highlight is seeing and hearing from the latest member of the community designated a design Legend by Contract’s editorial staff. This year that distinction was restyled “Visionary.” As Paul Makovsky, Contract’s Editor in Chief said in announcing the change, being called a legend implies your career is over and that is not the intent of the recognition. Being designated a design Visionary really does seem more appropriate.

Breakfast was served with a welcome overlay of conversations.

The winners are selected by a jury of recognized design leaders, using project photos and floor plans without attribution to the responsible design firms. This year’s jury consisted of 2011 Co-Designer of the Year Verda Alexander, Principal and Co-founder of Studio O+A; 2014 Designer of the Year Krista Ninivaggi, Founder of K&CO; Tara Roscoe, Partner at Schiller Projects; Margaret Sullivan, Principal and Founder of Margaret Sullivan Studio; and David Taglione, Team Leader at ICRAVE.

That said, the intent of this article is to report on the event – for in-depth reporting and explication of the winning projects, I refer you to this month’s Contract magazine. However, in reporting on the event I want to say a few words about the work and acceptance speeches of the Designers of the Year, the design Visionary, and the category winners.

Paul Makovski, Editor in Chief, Contract magazine presented the awards.

Designers of the Year

Joshua Aidlin and David Darling both grew up in Ohio and graduated from the architecture program at the University of Cincinnati in the ‘80s. But they didn’t really get to know each other until they were both living in San Francisco, working at different architecture firms. They moved from meeting to critique one another’s projects at the two firms, to realizing that their collaboration and shared vision were the stuff of a shared practice. So in 1998 they launched Aidlin Darling Design.

Designers of the year Joshua Aidlin and David Darling accepting the honor.

As young boys, both men were inspired and influenced by adults who had a deep understanding and appreciation for materials and building things. In the case of Josh Aidlin that influence was his painter mother and sculptor father. In the case of David Darling it was his father’s architect friend whose offices David cleaned on Saturdays for candy money.

I’d never met Aidlin and Darling before the Awards breakfast, but from their acceptance speeches I sensed their deep respect for and commitment to each other, to the people who work in their studio and to doing great design that lives comfortably in its site, whether that’s an urban office building or a university campus or a rural site.

Designers of the Year Joshua Aidlin and David Darling; trophies in hand.

I sensed a humility and spirituality as they spoke of their work.  Indeed Mr. Aidlin’s voice cracked as he acknowledged the contributions to his work of Mr. Darling, the others in the firm and the support of his family.

Mr. Darling spoke movingly of the intense satisfaction he experiences when sketching alone through the night in a state of “Flow.”

It’s easy to understand how these two could have conceived the highly acclaimed Windhover Contemplative Center at Stanford University or the new Contemplative Sciences Commons at the University of Virginia. And it’s easy to see why Contract magazine made an excellent choice in naming them Designers of the Year.

Design Visionary

David Rockwell was chosen to be the first recipient of the newly minted title, Visionary, and I can’t think of anybody for whom it is a more apt distinction. His practice spans the worlds of architecture, interior design, theater set-design, furniture design and community philanthropy. And the work he has produced across these various and seemingly disparate areas is truly visionary.

David Rockwell, recipient of the first Visionary Award.

Perhaps best-known for highly visible hospitality projects such as the New York EDITION, the Cathédrale Restaurant or the Union Square Café, or for the Jet Blue Terminal at JFK. He is also a Tony Award winning set designer, building upon an aptitude he first exercised while growing up in New Jersey where his mother started a local repertory theater.  The Rockwell Group became a recognized furniture designer when Knoll introduced its Rockwell Unscripted Collection.

The event media included a giant screen behind the stage as well as large monitors strategically place around the room.

But within the New York community David Rockwell is perhaps best loved for his pro bono philanthropic work, as a true believer in the New York’s Citymeals on Wheels and as a dedicated contributor to “Dining by Design” to benefit DIFFA.  After 9/11 he worked with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Kevin Kennon to propose, raise the money for, design and build a public viewing platform overlooking the 9/11 site.

Paul Makovsky, David Rockwell and Karen Donaghy as the event wound down.

I like that the first design Visionary is clearly visionary in terms of his body of work and also in terms of visionary leadership in the area of philanthropic giving to make his community a little better place to live.

Contract magazine is to be commended for a really great event and for picking extraordinarily worthy winners.

The sartorial splendor of Contract’s 2012 Design Legend, Carl Magnusson and 2013 Designer of the Year, Joey Shimoda.