Members Harry Allen, Jonas Damon, Ross Menuez, Jason Miller, Patrick Townsend, David Weeks
Disciplines Products, furniture, lighting
Mission “To make something better”
Collective hero Danese in its Bruno Munari/Enzo Mari heyday
To understand why six of New York’s most accomplished designers needed to form a collective, you have to go back to 2000, when Areaware co-founder Ross Menuez was working under Tom Dixon at London’s Habitat. According to Menuez, Dixon had grown tired of seeing knockoffs strangle the market and asked old-school designers such as Verner Panton, Achille Castiglioni, and Anna Castelli Ferreiri to plunder their own archives in order to source new works for Habitat’s Living Legends line. “The back catalog is a great place to look,” says Menuez, 41. “You’ll often find designs that are very close to their designers’ hearts.”
Areaware was conceived with that premise: It is as much a clearinghouse for designs that were never picked up for commercial distribution as it is a sounding board where members, each of whom maintains a solo practice, can work out ideas about craft. “A lot of us were fed up with the idea that you go to Milan, you play the game, and maybe your product gets produced,” Menuez says. And so Areaware’s members took matters into their own hands, hiring a business manager in longtime friend Noel Higgins and sharing ideas about suppliers so they could produce the goods themselves. The group’s first collection straddles Koonsian whimsy and formal elegance, and it includes Menuez’s screen-printed Salvor animal pillows, Harry Allen’s Reality product line, Jason Miller’s Lego vases, and Patrick Townsend’s Orbit chandelier, which explodes a string of lights into three dimensions.
What initially began as a business solution, however, has become a shared philosophical pursuit. “The short-term Darwinian strategy is to get attention, and to get attention, you have to have a gimmick,” Menuez explains. But long-term, the six designers are more interested in what Menuez calls the Dieter Rams school: “I have a fantasy of making goods that you don’t have to redesign every two years,” he says. To that end, the group has begun to experiment with designing outside the creative vacuum, giving more thought to what is practically achievable with a given supplier, “the way a chef would go to a farmer’s market and make a menu based on what’s there,” Menuez explains. They’ve also opened up their ranks to other members who might inform the group’s aesthetic; they have a few orphaned works by Tobias Wong (see p. 103) in their sights and they’re courting Brooklyn furniture designer Stephen Burks as well. The idea is to keep things loose and to puzzle out the intricacies of design vs. commerce later. As Menuez puts it, “It’s a nebulous collection of people and ideas that has the potential to become more coherent and relevant in the next couple of years.” www.areaware.com
Art: Harry Allen’s resin Banana Bowl