Friday, July 9, 2010

The Journey Continues (Pt. 4) - My "Ah-ha" Moment

By the summer of 1983 showrooms in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia and New York were representing our work. Sales, however, were tight thanks largely to a severe recession that was still in the process of unwinding.

In June 1983 (or possibly 1984) I was in Chicago attending a large contract furniture show called NEOCON - which was an event hosted annually at the Merchandise Mart. This was a mind-boggling experience for a kid from rural Canada, because you have to realize at that time there was no Internet available for the average person to see what was new and happening in the world of design. Whatever you saw could only be found either on television, or in a brochure, newspaper or magazine. Alternatively you could visit showrooms or attend trade shows to see things first hand.

It was during my first NEOCON that I decided to roam the Merchandise Mart to see what else was out there. The Mart (as it's known in Chicago) is a large bunker of a building located on the city's North Side - at the branches of the Chicago River.

Boasting 4 million square feet of floor space this building is so imposing that it even has its own zip code. In the 1980s this space was dedicated primarily to the furniture trade, and some of the finest examples of work on the planet could be found there.

While walking from floor to floor I stumbled upon a high end showroom called Karl Mann, and when I looked through the doors my jaw literally hit the floor. What caught my eye was a presentation of exquisite furniture pieces - on display in an open concept, minimalist space.

At first glance the pieces looked more like sculpture than furniture.

Venturing inside I carefully examined each piece with abject awe.

I was particularly drawn to a lacquered bar cabinet on display.

Measuring 71" high x 30" wide x 22" deep this unusual masterpiece had discrete drawers and hidden compartments, which cleverly concealed its real function.

What I noticed most, however, was that these pieces were of a quality level I had never seen before. The high gloss finish was a perfectly polished automotive paint, and the seamless execution of the mitred corners was absolutely flawless.

While our work was good, I realized that this was taking things to a whole new level.

"This is it" I remember saying to myself.

"This is it."

I soon learned that the person responsible for designing and making these pieces was a New York artist by the name of Dakota Jackson. Dakota was then a rising talent in the Art Furniture movement that emerged in the 1970s, and he soon rose to the top of the scene.

As luck would have it the economic doldrums of the time would soon be dissipated by an economic phenomena known as Reaganomics. The New York market in particular turned white hot, and we were soon presented with abundant opportunities to do custom furniture commissions there.

Within a few years we would also find ourselves collaborating with Dakota Jackson on some of his more complex custom pieces.

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