Posted on 9/28/2012 2:30 PM by Robert Nieminen

San Francisco is a city of surprises. There’s something new to greet you around every corner, a fact that I witnessed firsthand last week as I participated in the second stop in Mannington Commercial’s Design Local competition.

Team San Francisco (left-to-right): Kevin Wilder, Huntsman Architectural Group; Erin Rindal, NBBJ; Michelle Nelson, Interior Architects; Adrienne Tancibok, FENNIE+MEHL Architects; Krystal Grubb, Gensler; Doug Wittnebel, Gensler

As our Senior Editor, AnnMarie Martin, reported earlier this month from Chicago where the event kicked off, Design Local is an innovative new venture taking place in four cities—Chicago (check), San Francisco (check), Austin and Washington, D.C.—where six designers from each will have 24 hours to help create a flooring collection.

Armed with a digital camera and $200, the designers are set loose in their respective cities to find inspiration wherever it may be lurking, and to take pictures, sketch, collect artifacts or buy objects that represent their locale. The evidence is then collected and synthesized into themes that will inspire a new flooring line which will be posted online for the public to vote for their favorite. The winning collection will be featured at NeoCon 2013. (The suspense is killing me already.)

This is no ordinary design contest, I can assure you, because as the media partner for the event, I was able to go along for the ride and documented the process for your enjoyment.

Let’s start with the weather. There was nothing typical about the perfect, clear blue skies and intensity of light that reflected the many colors throughout the city. There wasn’t even a hint of fog or grey clouds in sight. I would like to submit Exhibit A into evidence, a photo of Adrienne Tancibok of FENNIE+MEHL Architects, snapping a picture of Golden Gate:

Locals told me the weather is hardly ever like this. I wasn’t complaining; it was a gorgeous day, perfect for wandering the City by the Bay looking for inspiration, or for sitting beneath a tree to sketch out some design ideas, as Doug Wittnebel with Gensler chose to do instead (wait until you see the sketches he produced using his iPad):

Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the introductory presentation by Brian and Diane Campbell, owners of boutique confection shop, The Candy Store, as well. The husband-and-wife team shared their (often humorous) journey of realizing their dream to own a sophisticated candy shop—from Diane’s early days of “dealing” candy in grade school (highest mark-ups she’s ever charged, she says), to the process of developing their brand and logo, and designing their retail space, concluding with their being approached by Target to participate in their Shops at Target campaign, which was a huge success (no surprise there).

The real fun began after lunch when I paired up with Krystal Grubb, Designer/Technical, Gensler; Erin Rindal, Associate Interior Designer, NBBJ; and Michelle Nelson, Intermediate Designer, Interior Architects for the “inspiration scramble.” These ladies hit the ground running, snapping photos left-and-right as we navigated the city on foot, working our way from Hallidie Plaza to the Ferry Market Building (where we had the most amazing oysters) and back up through Chinatown.

See action sequence below:

Inspiration for color came from the most unexpected places, as this little guy can attest to:

The real work began the next morning during the “idea download,” where each designer shared his or her inspiration, ideas, images and artifacts gathered from the previous day’s excursion and in their own preparations for the event. Design themes began to emerge quickly, although I can’t give anything away here—this is a competition after all and I’m sworn to secrecy.

Suffice it to say, the designers worked together as a cohesive team, and one thing I’m sure I won’t be surprised about is how beautiful the final designs from Team San Fran will be. Stay tuned for more as the next Design Local event takes place in Washington, D.C. next month.