Past Perfect *
Insights gleaned in a dozen years of editing this magazine
Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 3/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
From 1983 through 1995, I had the pleasure of serving as editor in chief for almost 200 of Interior Design's first 1,000 issues. Many of them were large ones, with May 1984 setting a record at a massive 634 pages. But what did those pages say?
In terms of stylistic changes, the big story in those years was the continuing strength of modernism. That was our abiding enthusiasm, too, and our heroes were the modernist adepts, but we simultaneously acknowledged the vitality of traditional design. In a typical issue, we gave at least a nod or two to the rival world of chintz and chandeliers.
What we found more difficult to accept were the attacks on modernism—and the occasional apostasies within it. Way back in 1966, Robert Venturi's iconoclastic Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture had suggested a direction opposed to the sometimes prudish severity of the International Style. This viewpoint fostered detached irony and wicked wit in the best of circumstances. In the worst, we witnessed the cartoon classicism of postmodernism—deliberately absent from our pages.
Increasingly, however, interior designers in the last quarter of the 20th century were concerned not only with how their installations looked but also with how they served. The profession was maturing to encompass issues of social responsibility. One concern, even more urgent now than then, was ecological soundness, and our August 1991 issue was devoted to "The Greening of Interiors." Accessibility became another important topic, particularly after the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, mandating barrier-free commercial and public interiors. We focused on "Universal Design" in August 1992.
In hindsight, the most important developments during that time were less stylistic or ideological than organizational. Designer certification, which we supported, was being hotly debated. In 1982, Alabama was the first state to require the passage of a standardized exam, Connecticut followed in 1983, and the process continued incrementally, with New York and California following in 1990. Foundation for Interior Design Education Research accreditation grew as well. (Now, 18,500 designers have been certified and 128 curricula accredited.)
In 1983, Interior Design organized a day of informal discussion for the presidents and chair- men of FIDER, the American Society of Interior Designers, the Institute of Business Designers, the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, and the Interior Design Educators Council—many of these leaders were meeting one another for the first time. The gatherings soon became semiannual events, ultimately resulting in larger ones known as issues forums. Less directly, this professional interaction led to attempts to unify the separate organizations, an effort that culminated in 1994 with the consolidation of several groups into the International Interior Design Association.
Designers came together under more grave circumstances as well. In 1984, Larry Pond and Pat Green spearheaded the formation of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. This magazine was supportive from the very start, boosting DIFFA in various articles, offering conference rooms for meetings, and hosting benefits.
Another fund-raising tradition dates from that same era: In 1985, Interior Design publisher Lester Dundes thought up the idea of benefiting FIDER by hosting an annual dinner to honor a Hall of Fame of the profession's finest. These annual events immediately became our most festive social occasions in addition to our highest recognition of excellence. They still are.
Although this brief account has omitted many important names—particularly the leading designers of the time and the many wonderful editors that made Interior Design the authoritative showcase for superior work—I'd like to salute just one person from each group. The giant among the designers, in my opinion, was Davis Allen, who started at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1950 and died in 1999 at 83. Of the editors, Monica Geran, who joined this magazine in 1968 and just announced her semiretirement, has become the doyenne of U.S. design writers; her investigative skills and fine prose are models for us all.
To Dave, to Monica, and to all the others who made our years together so exciting and productive, I send my thanks.
A Powell/Kleinschmidt house in Minneapolis, 1989, served as a serene backdrop for a collection of modern and minimalist art.
Completed in 1987, architect Mario Botta's first U.S. commission was the ICF showroom in New York. The sweeping brick walls provided a backdrop for furniture by Alvar Aalto, Josef Hoffmann, and Botta himself.
A 1986 New York restaurant by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Palio flavorfully blended the vision of associates Paul Vieyra and Edward Weller III and design partner Raul d'Armas, the supervision of partner Thomas Fridstein, the furniture of Davis Allen, the tableware of Vignelli Associates, and the wraparound mural of Sandro Chia.
Juan Montoya Design Corporation's own New York studio, 1987, reflected the practice's range and eclecticism.
For SOM's Kuwait Chancery, a 1982 project in Washington, D.C., Vieyra and partner in charge Michael McCarthy produced a kaleidoscope of geometric ornament.
Krueck & Sexton principal Ronald Krueck infused the Miesian tradition with lyricism at this Chicago apartment, 1983.
In the early 1990's, Naomi Leff and Associates designed a Giorgio Armani shop in Boston as a stylish cocoon for high fashion.