It was Tuesday, April 26 (yes, yesterday), and for 13 interior designers, the pressure was on:
9 a.m. — The doors at Propcellar opened, and interior designers surveyed their individual spaces for the first time
9:15 a.m. — Design teams hauled in supplies and equipment, calling out directions to subcontractors and rolling up their sleeves
9:25 a.m. — Designers and subs started priming, hammering, wallpaper hanging … and troubleshooting
The baker’s dozen of experts has joined forces for Art by Design, a three-day fundraising event led by ArtsMemphis and sponsored by IberiaBank that showcases the work of some of the city’s most sought-after interior designers. Within a tight, two-day period, each designer or team is tasked with outfitting a blank vignette in his or her own distinctive style with a deadline of finishing in time for the first scheduled Art by Design event, a preview dinner Thursday night.
By 9:26 a.m., it’s apparent that this is not your average showhouse. As an onlooker, it seems more like one of those reality TV design competitions – Memphis’ own version of “Design Star” or “Top Design,” but with a twist. Just like a TV show, the challenge began with 13 identical, box-shaped rooms, each a blank canvas that’s being transformed into a high-style space by the artists now priming and hammering away. Also like a TV show, these designers are working against the clock to take their white spaces from blank to breathtaking, decorating individual areas that patrons will be able to view and admire in person this weekend.
The twist is that instead of competing against one another, the designers are coming together for a cause – raising funds for Memphis arts organizations. And instead of viewing and judging their work through a TV screen, you can see it in person this weekend at Propcellar, and chat with the designers about their vision and their work.
Scheduled Thursday through Saturday, April 28 to 30, 2016, Art by Design includes the Thursday preview dinner, a Friday night cocktail party and a Saturday general admission event, where Memphians can browse the designers’ vignettes and get books signed by artist Hunt Slonem.
Designer Greg Baudoin, owner of Ray & Baudoin Interior Design and a six-year ArtsMemphis board member, says the idea behind Art by Design “really just popped in my head.” Baudoin, who also conceived and helped lead ArtsMemphis’ popular culinary fundraising series, says his goal was to create an event that showcases the design talent of Memphis in a brand new way. “’Designer showcase’ is the word I use, not showhouse, because I didn’t want it to be limited,” says Baudoin. “Traditionally, when you do a showhouse, you’re in a physical home and you’re limited to what that home has to offer. These are individually designed and built vignettes based on the designers’ inspiration and vision.”
Contractor Hank Hill donated time and materials to build the 13 white-box rooms inside Propcellar’s unique event space at 2585 Summer Ave. Hill and his team finished construction on the 13 spaces Monday. Between now and Thursday evening, designers are taking their ideas from the concept phase to three-dimensional reality, with all the creativity and problem solving, fun and stress that entails. But really, says Ann Nordeen Parker, a participating designer and member of the event steering committee, Art by Design is like any other project installation — with just one big difference. “Many of my projects are set up this way,” says Parker, owner of Parker Design Studio. “When you do out-of-town projects, it’s all about timing. You have to know every part and piece that’s going into the space.” The difference is that for her vignette, Parker can put herself into the space. “I channel my clients’ design desires in my work,” she says. “I don’t have the same style for every client — it’s the client’s style. [Art by Design] is an opportunity for myself and everyone else to do what we want.”
In her case, that’s a “bathing room,” which features a tub by Ferguson, as well as products from other local vendors. In the case of participant Selena McAdams, interior designer and owner of Spruce in East Memphis, it’s a living space. “I feel like in the past year, Spruce has been really stylized, design-wise,” McAdams says. “I wanted to escape that and do something that was more aesthetically bohemian — still go with transitional, high-style elements, but spin them toward summer. In the summer, you want to let your hair down and not style it, wear flow-y clothes. That’s the concept of the booth, letting your hair down, still having a luxurious look and feel, but more relaxed.”
For her dining room concept, designer Christian Nelius of Anno Domini took the event’s connection to the arts to heart. Nelius commissioned artist Frances Berry to create a painting for the walls of her vignette. “From there, every selection I made, from the drapes to the furniture to the rugs and accessories, they were all made in an effort to complement these walls,” Nelius says. “I was able to call on some of my favorites in the young art community to complete my vision of a truly artful living space.”
The 13 designers and design teams taking part in Art by Design are Laura Davis and Whitney Joiner of Ray & Baudoin; Gwen Driscoll of Driscoll Design & Decoration; Jeff Edwards of Carlton Architecture; Cameron Howell and Sarah Spinosa of Cameron Howell Interior Design and Sarah Spinosa Interior Design; Lisa Mallory of Lisa Mallory Interior Design; Shawn Matthews of Ray & Baudoin; Selena McAdams of Spruce; Ann Nordeen Parker of Parker Design Studio; Biggs Powell of Biggs Powell Interior Design & Antiques and Gracey Smythe; Missy Steffens of M. Steffens Interiors; Suzanne Varner of Suzanne Varner Interior Design; Christian Nelius of Anno Domini; and Jenna Wallis of Jenna Wallis Interior Design.
McAdams says she’s excited to be working side-by-side with the other designers involved in the event. “It’s fun to bring together a group that’s fresh and energetic and get them into one place, to see how those different styles coincide,” she says. “They’ve brought in some fresh faces that people aren’t that aware of. I think that will be really exciting within the design scene of the city. And to parlay that into a fundraising event for the arts is a pretty cool collaboration.”
That spirit of collaboration is a driving force behind the event, says Parke Kennedy, who’s leading the event for ArtsMemphis. “The cool thing about this is that it is a celebration of the amazing array of talent our city has to offer,” she says. “There’s a depth and a breadth of creative energy in the city, and it’s what makes this place so unique and so special. This is a really fun event because we get to celebrate the creative community and draw attention to it at the same time we’re raising money to support the arts.”
And attendees should expect to encounter clever ideas and inspired spaces that range from foyer to nursery to bar, adds Baudoin. “Because this is a blank canvas, I’m most excited about seeing the diversity of the designs,” he says. “And the enthusiasm of all the designers involved has been incredible.”
Art by Design kicks off Thursday, April 28, with a VIP preview dinner featuring chefs Kelly English and Patrick Gilbert of Iris, Etc. Friday offers a second preview event, a 7 p.m. cocktail party that includes food by four local chefs – Erick Aladenika of Simply Delicious Caterings, Armando Gagliano of Ecco on Overton Park, Michael Hanna of Hanna Farm and Fran Mosley of Haute Monde Sweet & Savory Bar. Tickets to Thursday’s event are sold out, but tickets to Friday’s cocktail party ($75) were still available at press time.
The general admission event ($20) runs Saturday, April 30, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., artist Hunt Slonem will discuss and sign his books, When Art Meets Design and Bunnies. Proceeds from book sales benefit ArtsMemphis. The events will include appearances by other arts groups, too, including New Ballet Ensemble. “This is a new way to reach out to people and really emphasize the fact that we’re all connected by that creativity,” Kennedy says. “It’s really important to have an environment in Memphis that nurtures and supports the arts because it’s what makes us so unique.”
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