Synergy buzzed and bubbled across the Artists for Humanity (AFH) EpiCenter's vast new events venue on April 5 as the 12th annual Boston Design Week Awards honored creativity and initiative as mold-breaking and impact-making as the space itself.
Synergy buzzed and bubbled across the Artists for Humanity (AFH) EpiCenter’s vast new events venue on April 5 as the 12th annual Boston Design Week Awards ceremony honored creativity and initiative as mold-breaking and impact-making as the space itself.
Last year’s 51,500-square-foot expansion of AFH’s 15-year-old South Boston facility included 30,000 square feet of event rental space to raise funds for the 28-year-old nonprofit to prepare more underserved teens for art and design employment. Behnisch Architekten’s Boston office fashioned the atrial space with the bare-bones industrial aesthetic of white-painted corrugated metal ceilings, steel I-beams and columns, and steel-rod railings amid two levels of unfinished concrete flooring interconnected by an open stair.
“We designed it to make it welcoming, cool, flexible and adaptable,” said AFH Marketing Director Rich Frank.
“Architectural design-wise, it’s stunning,” said Tony Fusco, co-producer of Fusco & Four Associates of West Roxbury, the event’s promoter. “We wanted to introduce the whole design community to the new space, and so did Artists for Humanity.”
That made the expansion timely for their coalition to congregate 200-plus representatives and aficionados of architecture, interior, masonry, fashion, graphic and other design fields to applaud Boston’s five latest laureates.
Benjamin Peterson, Director of Practice Instruction and Student Support at the Boston Architectural College (BAC), received the Social Impact Award.
“I run an educational curriculum [the Gateway Initiative] that teams our students with a variety of neighborhood organizations and nonprofit groups who seek design assistance for their missions,” he said.
In the Gateway Initiative’s precursor to the city-sponsored Climate Ready Boston initiative, BAC students canvassed East Boston to listen to residents’ concerns about “specifics of vulnerability to climate change,” said Peterson. “I encourage my students to understand that design is about listening. Designers have a responsibility to amplify personal narratives and live the experiences of the people we work with and learn from.”
The Newcomer of the Year was Joel Kamm, founder and CEO of Flexetail, which builds climate-controlled mobile tiny retail (MTR) units on wheels that enable companies to promote their products anyplace in comfortable alternatives to unheated tents, pop-ups and repurposed shipping containers.
“Our units are not retrofit, but custom-built,” said Kamm. “We start with a base platform [of engineered wood flooring] and custom-build on top of it” with a tube-steel skeleton, wood siding, and advanced AV and HVAC systems.
The latter came in handy when Hydrow of Cambridge promoted its indoor rowing machines at last October’s Head of the Charles Regatta, where white tents were the retailer norm.
“It was 30 degrees that Sunday,” said Kamm. “Hydrow used our unit to bring its products to customers in a space where it was a comfortable 68 degrees. People were more willing to go inside and test out the product there than in cold tents.”
Kamm has proposed MTRs to FEMA as affordable, quickly available housing for the displaced. “My goal is to bring our four-to-five-week lead time for building down to two weeks and speed up the process of building tiny houses,” he said.
John Trifone received a Special Award for opening and managing a Holly Hunt luxury home furnishings showroom in the Boston Design Center in March after Holly Hunt’s local retailer, Webster & Company, closed.
“We have reset the bar for how furnishing and furniture are showcased,” said Trifone, who plans to relocate to a permanent space in the center early next year. “We take you on a journey of inspiration through our space to show how design elements and details, scale and proportion, and texture all work together. It’s about the experience a customer receives, like welcoming someone into your home and making them feel comfortable.”
Showroom highlights include Holly Hunt’s Sheffield and Edie sofas, Vladimir Kagan furniture collection and Great Plains textile collection.
“Great Plains comprises the highest quality fibers in a fashion-forward but classic color palette,” said Trifone. “Depth and richness in hue and texture allow the collection to work in a range of applications from window sheers to upholstery.”
The Mentor of the Year was School of Fashion Design instructor Jay Calderin.
“My goal is to get my students to the point when they can rely on themselves and help the next generation of designers,” said Calderin, who founded Boston Fashion Week 25 years ago to showcase budding fashion designers. “We help them do it their way and stand on their own. Some do daywear, others eveningwear. Some are edgy, others classic. It’s a real mix.”
Calderin’s mentees included Newcomer of the Year nominee Meghan Doyle Wilkinson, who recently launched her handcrafted apparel line Tallulah & Poppy as “classic silhouettes with interesting fabrics, colors, and textures,” as she told Forbes.
“Jay encouraged students to get as much industry experience as possible, especially before starting their own line,” she said. “That’s what I did prior to launching Tallulah & Poppy. Jay’s mentorship also helped me to stay true to my point of view and make sure to find and market to my target audience.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Roger Thomas, Executive Vice President of Wynn Design & Development and designer of the Encore Boston Harbor luxury resort under construction in Everett.
“We designers are crucial in creating places where well-lived lives are lived,” said Thomas, famed for many Steve Wynn-developed resort casinos, including Las Vegas’ Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas and China’s Wynn Macau and Wynn Palace, as well as The Roger Thomas Collection, his eclectic panoply of upscale jewelry, lighting, and home furnishings, finishes and fixtures. “We make our dreams come true, and we allow our fellow human beings to become the ideals of ourselves.”
Thomas credits his own development of those ideals to Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he studied painting, ceramics, metalwork, sculpture and textiles and received a B.A. in art history from Tufts University in 1973.
“They taught me how to solve problems creatively, often not by a method of saying what’s ‘right,’ but what’s unexpected,” he said. “So I often ask myself, ‘What shouldn’t I do? What would be perfectly wrong?’ ”
His opportunity to practice his design deviance knocked in 1980 when Steve Wynn, who had been a mentee of Thomas’ Las Vegas banker father E. Parry Thomas when he was financing casinos with clean capital to counteract their Mafia funding, asked Roger Thomas to “reinvent the hotel paradigm” for Las Vegas’ first major resort hotel in 25 years.
Opening in 1989 as the Polynesian tropical-themed Mirage featuring hand-carved Burmese wood and an outdoor mock volcano, it kicked off Thomas’ career crafting Wynn resort dreamspaces opulent with internationally themed décor, furnishings, lighting, chandeliers, art, crafts and antiques inspired and acquired through his biannual world travels and voluminous sketches of eastern and western architecture and design.
In this way, he burst the box of ex-gambler Bill Friedman’s 1960s concept of casinos as low-ceilinged labyrinths of slot machines and gaming tables with no decoration or lobbies to distract patrons from betting.
“I broke all the rules and ours were the most successful,” Thomas said. “I taught myself to do this by asking, ‘What do I want when I enter a casino?’ People feel comfortable in our spaces because we make grand spaces human and intimate.”
Thomas was hush-hush about his plans for Encore Boston Harbor. Scheduled to open June 23, it is his last resort project before retirement next January. However, he hinted that 1930s French antiques, lacquered boxes from Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), Macedonian marble floors, Venetian glass mosaics and grand staircases were informing Encore’s design.
“We want you to be surprised when you enter,” he said. “In looking at a hotel resort casino in Boston, we asked, ‘What should or shouldn’t we do differently? How do we honor Boston?’ Boston is where I learned to create beauty and magic. So it is circular and symmetrical for me to complete my final hotel design here.”