Unveiled at ICFF last month, the latest from Bernhardt Design is a brand new collection by Harry and Claudia Washington, founders of Due Estudio in El Salvador. The seating solution, Diego, is a casual yet functional lounge chair that offers mobility and flexibility.
The Washingtons began their design journey when the effects of the civil war in El Salvador made it nearly impossible for local industries to gain economic stability. Now recognized as one of the first Central American design firms to establish a worldwide presence, the duo’s specialized approach to design, particularly in their early days of designing with very limited resources, has helped lead the way for a generation of Salvadorian designers.
A discreet magnetic tab handle allows users to move Diego with minimal effort. The chair’s mobility is a key feature of its design.
The pair met in 2001 while they were both earning degrees in interior design at the Universidad Dr. José Matías Delgado, they told i+s. “After the war ended, all the efforts of reconstruction were focused on solving the practical issues, so El Salvador went through a long stage of numbness in the matters of design and architecture,” they continued. “Because of this, after graduating we became determined in the forging of a new path by breaking traditional manufacturing barriers and through education, both of designers and artisans.”
Established in October 2004, the Washingtons' shared a desire to “promote local design and create atypical furniture pieces suited to modern spaces,” they noted. In 2005, they expanded their studies in furniture design at the Instituto Europeo di Design in Milan. Upon their return, they founded their design lab, “which operates through artisan techniques and local manual labor to manufacture industrial looking products for our local and regional clients. Our work includes furniture and product design, residential interior architecture, space planning, retail interior design, and the creation of branding concepts for retail stores.”
Bernhardt Design: Meeting of the Minds
Harry and Claudia Washington first heard of Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design, in the pages of a magazine article about the first project with Art Center College in 2005. “We held onto the magazine,” they recalled.
They all met in 2008 when the Washingtons were in New York for the first time with a group of designers from El Salvador. “Two weeks after I met them we started work on our first project together which we debuted in Milan the next year,” Helling said. They was asked to join Bernhardt’s Global Editions division and has since created a number of designs that showcase comfort, functionality, and traditional Salvadorian influence.
“I loved their design work from the start, but it was their efforts to promote Salvadorian design during a time when Central America had virtually no presence on a global level that really moved me,” Helling continued. “Since our first collaboration in 2008, we have created a number of successful works which showcase Harry and Claudia’s signature comfort, functionality, and traditional Salvadorian influence in each design.”
The duo said they “immediately felt a connection with the Bernhardt Design products and with Jerry. We somehow knew we had to work with Bernhardt … three years before we actually met Jerry. His efforts to promote established and emerging designers was also in line with our goals of putting Central American design on the map, so it has been an incredibly supportive and collaborative partnership for us from the start.”
The latest innovation from Harry and Claudia, Diego, was named after their four-year-old son “who keeps us on the move,” they said. “We wanted to create a casual yet functional chair that adapted to our lives at home and in the studio.”
The inspiration for Diego’s design came from vintage racecar bucket seats that “give a very different kind of hold to the body,” the pair explained. “We wanted to translate that into a lounge chair, which is not something we had ever seen before. We wanted to offer something with mobility and that was customizable. The seat’s accentuating edges also embrace the user without restriction.” A discreet magnetic tab handle allows the chair to move with minimal effort.
The inspiration for Diego’s design came from vintage racecar bucket seats that “give a very different kind of hold to the body,” the team explained. “We wanted to translate that into a lounge chair, which is not something we had ever seen before.”
“I love its adaptability,” Helling said of the new design. “Diego fits one’s ever-changing lifestyle. Whether for the mobile workplace or for the home, it gives you the mobility to move. Its tab is subtle and the seat itself is remarkably comfortable which makes for a well-rounded design.”
On the Horizon
Since the inception of their partnership, the Washingtons' have created several notable pieces for Bernhardt Design, both tables and seating. “Their Mitt chair is a favorite of mine and has been our best-selling product for the past five years,” Helling noted. “Diego is fantastic as it is such a versatile chair that is easily movable and adapts to just about any lifestyle.”
Meet Corvo by Bernhardt Design
Naturally, the collaboration between them and Bernhardt Design won’t stop now, particularly because the Washingtons’ relationship with Helling has evolved into a friendship “that has taken us through several furniture pieces and wonderful personal experiences in the process,” they said. “Obviously we would love to keep designing new pieces for such an amazing company.”
Diego’s thoughtful design provides the comfort of home in various commercial spaces, including areas where people gather in casual workspaces.
Since working with Bernhardt Design, the couple has completed photoshoot sessions in El Salvador, judged and sponsored a contest there, and they continue to raise their children all the while (Diego has a sister named Valentina). “Jerry and the Bernhardt family have been a part of all that. It’s natural we don´t see the relationship ending, perhaps only constantly evolving and growing even closer through new projects but most importantly through new life experiences together.”