In the Mix
Design Miami/ exhibitors share tips on curating spaces beyond the ordinary (Part I)
One of the most overheard comments at Design Miami/ 2022 last month was that the exhibitors’ installations looked especially gorgeous. While our community of gallerists, editeurs, and designers have always excelled at showcasing collectible design through well considered, beautifully immersive installations, our most recent fair, it was said, left visitors feeling like the aesthetic bar was raised even higher.
Inspired by last month’s kudos, we followed up with a handful of exhibitors whose unique and inspiring sensibilities wowed fairgoers and sparked conversations. How do they create such extraordinary environments? Scroll on for insights from the gallerists behind Ippodo Gallery, Converso, and Tuleste Factory. And stay tuned for Part II of this story, coming soon.
Shoko Aono of Ippodo Gallery
Shoko Aono launched Ippodo Gallery in New York in 2008 as the US offshoot of the Tokyo-based gallery her mother, Keiko Aono, founded 12 years earlier. The same mission guides both gallerists: celebrating, supporting, and preserving kōgei, a highly prized genre of Japanese arts and crafts created by the most skilled contemporary artisans working in age-old, locally-rooted traditions.
Shoko’s affinity for soulful objects and serene spaces is infectious. Her presentation at Design Miami/ 2022 drew in visitors who were eager not only to take a closer look at the kōgei works in ceramic, lacquer, and bronze, but also to experience the dreamy, minimalist environment she curated within an original tea house designed by the late renowned designer Shigeru Uchida.
For Shoko, the quality of a space depends on the quality of the objects that fill it—a philosophy that dovetails with her gallery’s program and feeds her enthusiasm for sharing kōgei with new audiences. “Nature-centric and rich with cultural heritage,” she explains, “these artworks are handcrafted in natural materials with highly technical precision. For the people of Japan, the realm of nature has a spiritual association, and this practice embraces the spiritual within the material. Kōgei is cherished for the skill of the artisan and the quality of the production.”
Asked to define her design approach, Shoko says she prefers objects that “emphasize materiality, stay true to timeless forms, and exude a humble spirit,” because these characteristics can “evoke a visceral response.”
She adds: “To create harmony, seek out artworks that inspire introspection and reflect the sincerity of their creator while contributing to the greater whole. Each choice should be deliberate and not too assertive. Mindful engagement, such as arranging flowers and practicing tea, elevates one’s living space. At heart, I believe we must live with empathy and gratitude for the life that surrounds us.”
Lawrence Converso & Michael Graham of Converso
For nearly 30 years, Chicago-based Converso has been a premier resource for passionate collectors of rare and iconic 20th-century designs—especially those produced in the US during the modernist era. Thanks to founder Lawrence Converso and director Michael Graham’s deep expertise, the gallery’s continuously evolving collections are always illuminated and enlivened by highly researched origin stories. For Lawrence and Michael, design is most desirable when it exudes timelessness while also, paradoxically, offering a portal to intriguing people, places, and ideas from the past. “Historical avant-garde work was made for the future,” Lawrence muses, “and finds its target audience today.”
“For Converso,” Michael tells us, “American modernism is evergreen and endlessly nuanced. The incredible objects we handle open doors onto fascinating cultural histories. In the early years, the gallery focused on excavating legendary sites of modernist production: New Hope, Grand Rapids, California... Most recently, we’ve turned our attention to Northern Californian craft and its connection to early environmentalist subcultures. We are drawn to the work of brilliant outliers.”
Lawrence encapsulates his design approach as “architectural,” favoring furniture and objects that express the “logic” of their intended contexts and uses—values also championed by the modernist movement. He cites the table and chairs that Bruce Goff designed for his home, Shin’eKan, which feature a triangular structure that echoes recurring motifs in the architecture. “Or like Wharton Esherick’s sofa for the Seiver Residence,” Lawrence adds, “which achieves an ordered, almost Roman architectural sensibility in wood, while remaining liquid from every angle.”
The space that Lawrence and Michael curated for Design Miami/ 2022 showcased their aptitude for visual storytelling that brings under-appreciated design histories to life. A celebration of 1960s Palm Springs, the living-room-like installation included rare, “Desert Modern” furniture by Arthur Elrod alongside bold contemporaneous works, like William Armbruster’s elongated sofas and Richard Mann’s psychedelic wall treatment. In concert, the objects captured the design spirit that helped transform a small desert town into a celebrity and socialite playground.
A few essential design principles guide Converso’s dynamic, narrative-driven environments. “Anchor your space around one truly great, special, collectable piece,” Michael advises. “It can be monumental or not, but find a focus and build around it. And be sure to let things breathe.”
Satu & Celeste Greenberg of Tuleste Factory
Satu and Celeste Greenberg honed their playful yet sophisticated sensibility in the world of fashion, through a range of projects including their own accessories brand. In 2018, these California-born, New York-based sisters launched Tuleste Factory and redirected their talents toward commissioning cutting-edge art and collectible design. “Working in fashion for so long, we have a very strong constitution for what evokes an emotional response,” Satu and Celeste explain. “We know the pieces [represented by Tuleste Factory] will elevate any space for our clients and bring joy to their lives.”
The eye for on-the-pulse style, innovation, and curation that the Greenberg sisters share is evident not only in the works they commission but also in the immersive environments they create to contextualize and communicate the works. A perfect example is Tuleste Factory’s presentation at Design Miami/ 2022, which spotlighted rising-star design studios Facture, Ian Alistair Cochran, JT Pfeiffer, and Yonathan Moore within a conceptually-driven, otherworldly setting that reveled in the intoxicating properties of the color blue.
“We are drawn to innovative materials and makers who have made it their life’s work to tame challenging materials,” Satu and Celeste tell us. “From our most recent collection, we are absolutely obsessed with Ian Alistair Cochran’s plump, round coffee table and the new Tube Console by Quincy Ellis of Facture. Along with the outstanding science, engineering and craftsmanship behind these designs, we love their ‘60s chic and futuristic vibes.”
For Satu and Celeste, it’s all about how design components play off each other and contribute to the overall effect in unique and surprising ways. “There are so many elements that make an environment extraordinary,” they tell us. “From lighting, textures, and color to biophilic plant and flower accents. And don’t forget scent and sound!”
Satu and Celeste have earned a reputation for composing gallery spaces that take visitors on a provocative visual journey, but at home prioritize personal touches. “Our taste is constantly evolving, but we have always been passionate about blending high and low, pairing designer pieces with sentimental items—a signature of ours that has endured since our time in the fashion industry.”
Sharing more of their go-to design considerations, they add: “The right mix of textures can really make the difference in creating a warm and cozy atmosphere. We love a pop of color and draw inspiration from beautiful, strong colors in the films of Jean Luc Godard, Pedro Almodovar, and Wong Kar-Wai. And it’s important to have soothing, flattering lighting at all times. Interrogation lighting is one trend we can all agree to leave in the past! One of our newest artist-designers, Yonathan Moore, has solved this for us with his beautiful light sculptures.” ◆