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A Design Maverick

Renaissance man Terry Crews tackles furniture with his creations for Bernhardt Design.

11.01.2017
By Jennie Morton

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What happens when a design outsider uses a background in Hollywood and art to reimagine furniture? With a successful acting career, Terry Crews is most recognized for his roles in the cult classic movie “Idiocracy,” “The Expendables” franchise, and Old Spice commercials. But behind his acting talent is a design eye that is rooted in storytelling. The Terry Crews Collection, a partnership with Bernhardt Design, draws inspiration from Egyptian culture.

He explained, “This collection began with a few questions: What would a pharaoh’s palace look like in today’s modern world? How would contemporary modern furnishings look when influenced by a non-European culture that is 2,000 years old? Answering those questions gave me a wonderful narrative to base my designs on and then I was off and running.”

The collection transposes the graceful lines of hieroglyphics into fluid furniture shapes, with references to the sacred Ibis bird, the revered water lily bloom, and smooth stones from the Nile river. With features like the swiveling chair base of Lilypad and the generous width of the Ibis couch, the pieces encourage users to connect with one another.

When Crews was introduced to Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design, he had already established a presence at ICFF events with both his own projects and his financial support for Ini Archibong’s 2016 debut collection. Helling was familiar with Crews’ background in art and wanted to see where his passion for design could go. The firm routinely partners with creatives with unique resumes, including photography and fashion.

“The beauty of this project is that [Crews] brought a fresh perspective void of preconceived notions to the table that wouldn’t have been possible working with someone with a traditional design background,” Helling said.

“The importance of my partnership with Bernhardt is to show the value and importance of a new point of view,” Crews added. “Although I have always been an artist and illustrator, I am definitely an outsider when it comes to furniture design. I was able to approach our project with the enthusiasm of a child with no rules, which happened to be exactly what [Helling] was looking for.”

Though Crews didn’t intend to enter the contract furnishings world, he leapt at the opportunity to take on a new challenge. He threw himself into inventing a narrative for the collection that provided a creative foundation.

“The story behind how something was thought of and created makes the work worthwhile,” Crews explained. “A well-designed piece is like reading a good book with a thrilling finish—it will take you on a journey without ever leaving where you are.”

Of Crews’ design vision, Helling said it was “clear … from the day we decided to collaborate and he came to our initial concept meeting with an incredibly strong body of sketches. Terry’s love for illustration and his background in acting resulted in some of the most well-sketched and highly narrative initial concepts I had ever seen. Very few changes were made from the original sketches during the design development process, which is extremely rare.”

The collection is intended for a multitude of settings, such as collaborative spaces, study lounges, hotel lobbies, and reception areas. Despite Crews’ unconventional background, Helling noted that industry professionals have praised his pieces for their refreshing appearance. Crews intends to funnel this momentum and his enthusiasm for inspiring design into future collaborations.

“I would love to break the stereotype that interior design is only ‘feminine,’” he said. “I hope my design journey inspires more men to try their hand at creating beautiful spaces. There is room for every gender, race, ethnicity, and culture to have their story told.”

Photography courtesy of Bernhardt Design