5 Designers to Watch

Here are some industry stand-outs who are pushing the bounds of what’s possible interiors, branding, art and product design.

11/01/2013 By Erika Templeton, AnnMarie Martin and Adam Moore 38 Shares

As IIDA President Felice Silverman writes in this month’s column, the real challenge in our field is not finding inspiration, but creating something that inspires. With that in mind, we have selected five designers who are busy pushing the bounds of what’s possible in interiors, in branding, in art and in product design. 

From Josh Held’s exuberant and enveloping “alternate realities” to Ryan Anderson’s radically simple furniture designs, these unique talents prove that there are still plenty of new ideas out there—we’ve just got to get to work creating them.

Of course, we’re only scratching the surface of the innovation and creative thinking taking place in the design world. Share your favorite designer or inspiring space with us, or tell us who we missed at our Facebook and Twitter pages.

 josh held | joshhelddesign.com

Photograph courtesy of Marquee

Josh Held confesses that his “first love” was production design for film, which would explain his taste for spectacle. Held has built his career and a small eponymous firm by designing some of the most dramatic hospitality experiences in the country, including the reinvented Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the W Lakefront in Chicago and the Marquee nightclub in New York City (shown above).

“Production design is a layering of fantasy, emotion and theatrics—the same characteristics that make hospitality projects successful,” he says. “There is a transformative element [to hospitality spaces] that goes beyond entertainment. That’s what keeps me energized.”

His focus on connecting with guests on both a conscious and a subconscious level has made Held a popular fixture in competitive markets like Las Vegas, where he was behind recent renovations at nightclubs TAO and Light, but true to form, he and his team are already thinking bigger. “Designing the interior of large-scale luxury transportation,” he says when asked for examples. “Whether it’s jumbo jets or commercial space travel.”

 jonah ward | jonahward.com

Photography By Stirtz new media

Jonah Ward loves playing with fire (and all other elements, for that matter).

His series of glass-burned wood panels has been heating up the art world and is now spilling over into the design scene, but he hasn’t stopped there. His other works include primal materials such as strips of bark from the Madrone tree, disassembled wasp nests, and paper stained with water and fire.

“Now looking back on it, I realize just how much how I grew up has influenced me,” he says of his childhood in Willits, Calif. Today, Ward spends most of his time in Oakland, where he also attended the California College of the Arts (CCA), but he continues to draw much of his material inspirations from Willits. He began his studies at the CCA as a painting and drawing major, but eventually switched to glass, which allowed him to “draw in a way I’ve never drawn before.” By senior year, Ward was dripping melted glass onto paper and those now-famed wood panels.

“The end product is one thing, but how you get to that point is very crucial,” he explains. “If you make that part really unique to yourself, then the end product will be something unique and different.”

  ryan anderson, RAD Furniture | radfurniture.com

Photography courtesy of ryan anderson

Ryan Anderson began formulating RAD Furniture during the height of the recession. He had no experience in the furniture industry, no initial investors and one year to go on a Master of Architecture degree.

What he did have was a business degree, and, thanks to his participation in the Solar Decathlon program, a newfound confidence and ability to weld.

“None of my friends were getting jobs, so I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can put this welding to work practically and use what I’m learning in architecture school,’” he recalls.

Anderson naturally gravitated towards steel and wood, creating ultra-simple designs that let the materials shine on their own.

“You can look at it and know exactly how it’s built and what the materials are. There’s nothing hidden—no glues, veneers, things like that. That’s our style: what you see is what you get.”

What began as a strictly residential, direct-to-consumer business is now 50 percent commercial, and Anderson has made scaling up the business look as simple as his designs.

“I was very disciplined about maintaining simplicity of manufacturing, so now as our demand is higher through the commercial market, we can just push play on the product lines that were in place.”

  adam rogers, thos. moser | thosmoser.com

Photography courtesy of Thos. Moser

Since joining the Thos. Moser design team in 2010, Adam Rogers has carved a space for himself where tradition and modernism converge. His award-winning Element Collection is the company’s first line of products designed by someone outside the Moser family.

It’s a watershed moment for the 41-year-old brand, and a personal achievement for Rogers, who was first drawn to Moser’s work while studying architecture at Lawrence Technological University.

“It wasn’t so much the work as the approach and the commitment to a set of ideals—a reverence for the history of furniture, his respect for the natural material, and his appreciation for craftsmanship in general,” he explains.

A deliberate thinker, Rogers has a philosophical approach that blurs the lines between design and craft. He says he was heavily influenced by his upbringing outside of Detroit, where “the culture of making had permeated society,” and by his grandfather, who designed and fabricated concept cars for GM.

“I realized craftsmanship was more of a state of mind than a skill. It slowly took on a certain nobility, that this ability to translate an idea into a solution was really a process,” he recalls. “Actually being responsible for the realization of your own ideas—that’s really what craft is. There’s a certain fulfillment and a real personal satisfaction associated with that.”

  lionel ohayon, icrave | icrave.com

Photograph By john Bartelstone Photograph Courtesy of OTG Management

For Lionel Ohayon, architecture has always been about more than just physical space; it’s about providing experiences. When he founded Manhattan-based design studio ICRAVE in 2001, he made a commitment to himself to always stay true to that by creating interiors that inspire people to be more than they ever thought they could be.

“It’s about the content and the use of it and how people engage in it,” Ohayon says of his design process, noting that the approach has required the firm to ask some tough questions over the years. In fact, Ohayon is still trying to answer the one he posed almost 20 years ago in his master’s thesis: What is the impact of the virtual world on the real world?

“On Facebook, people talk all day long, but they don’t have to physically see each other. You might have 1,000 friends but you’ve only seen three of them over the past two months. How do we take that world and make it a place where you actually meet?”

It’s a question that Ohayon and ICRAVE are planning to explore in the coming months, and in some markets where you might not expect them to operate, such as healthcare. As they work to develop some answers, Ohayon says he’ll be keeping the idea of “authorship” in mind. “Technology allows people to be the artist, to be the writer of their own tale,” he says. “It allows you to be more inquisitive on which story you want to listen to.”