The word “curator” can bring a lot of things to mind. Keeper and custodian. Someone who creates the overall shape and feel. A person who organizes and oversees an exhibition. Whether creating a collection of fine art or graphic fonts, a curator culls and convenes, framing viewpoints while expanding perspectives to shape and shift how the world is seen and shared. Doesn’t this describe the practice of interior design? Designers are, and always have been, curators – creating spaces and experiences, assembling colors, and materials to achieve a particular vision.
Today, everyone is a modern curator. And their diverse points of view fuel innovation, creativity, and collaboration. This is the impetus for the new approach Bentley Mills is employing in the product design process, and the stories that surround and bring it to life.
The brand is thinking differently about collaboration and product development. For Bentley, it’s more than a single person at the helm who creates the vision and directs everyone else to execute. Their process now takes a “studio approach” – modeled after an interiors studio – that intertwines in-house expertise with outside influences.
The in-house team of four at Bentley boasts tremendous talent and expertise. Senior designer Diane Hahn is an extraordinary pattern maker, while senior product specialist Reyes Barraza knows how to run and adapt every machine to make the brand’s visions possible. Textile designer Liz Mamont has lots of product knowledge, from working with customs to designing running line products. And senior product development coordinator and sample manager Miguel Chaidez rounds out the team. No single person runs the show. Rather, the entire team participates in sharing ideas, perspectives, expertise, and inspiration, from inside and outside the studio.
The new collaborative studio was tested earlier this year, when Bentley brought in artist and trends forecaster Gretchen Wagner to inspire and influence, rather than guide or direct, the internal team. Her initial presentation included a survey of art history across four categories: antiquity, old masters, modern, and contemporary.
For each category, Wagner shared visuals that demonstrate how source material pulls through and influences the work of artists and designers today. For example, the lessons learned from antiquity, specifically Ancient Greece, inform everything from the formality of the modernist Barcelona Pavilion to contemporary artists’ work with fluted stone and textiles. Even the location itself conjured a connection with water and the Mediterranean Sea for textile designer Mamont.
The in-house team went back to work, inspired and ready to bring ideas forward. In time, they reunited with Wagner for more sessions that involved moving patterns around, combining scales and textures, exploring colors, and refining how their ideas might come together as cohesive carpet collections. The process began with the big idea of what could be possible creatively, then advanced to the practical concerns, such as yarn, construction, and going to market.
The fresh approach worked. The outcome of Bentley’s studio model is the Modern Curator™ Collection No. 1, which was previewed in Chicago during NeoCon and officially launches in the design world in early 2023.
“For everyone, including manufacturers and commercial designers, looking outside of yourself is vital,” said Vicki deVuono, vice president of product and marketing, whose years of working in interiors and creative studios inspired Bentley’s new collaboration model. “Relying on other experts (artists, historians, sociologists…) to bring in unexpected points of view and perspective, and then leveraging in-house expertise to execute in the category you’re in – this is how you unleash innovation for your market and inspire confidence among your team.”
Inspired by the mid-century modernism movement that continues to resonate across generations, the Bentley design team infused Modern Curator Collection No. 1 with a European tilt – reflecting less of the American optimism that we typically associate with the period and more of the moody-edginess that permeates minds and designs right now. The collection comprises three patterns designed to creatively coexist or strongly stand alone. Look Sharp™ allows observers to step inside and share their story. A finely composed texture, it’s formed and orderly with a less predictable blend of soft, pooling hues and shades. Seeing Things™ captures the moment with the urgency of the present and our memories of the past. Its positive and negative spaces form geometries that are new, yet feel deeply familiar. Trained Eye™ is all about perspective, come closer and you’ll see dashed lines that seem gestured and delicate. Stand back and you’ll see how they assemble to establish a sweeping scale across the floor.
deVuono shared, “Everyone looks at things, and approaches things, differently – as they should. There is beauty in that, and incredible value in the diversity of thought and ideas. With Modern Curator, we’re capturing the nuances of varying views and combining and interpreting them in new, engaging ways for today’s commercial designers and interiors.”
The three Modern Curator Collection No. 1 patterns are the first of what will be a series of collections within the Modern Curator portfolio that define a new approach to how Bentley Mills collaborates, designs, and develops products. Collections No. 2, No. 3, and perhaps even No. 4, are already in the works!
The main message being sent and received is that we’re all curators with the ability to take unconventional and unexpected paths to unbelievably beautiful results. Bentley Mills’ studio model is refreshing and delivers results, with the focus on the process versus the credit. The approach matches the brand and its culture with the value of connecting and empowering experiences and fresh ideas. The Modern Curator Collection No. 1 will be available in early 2023.