Friday Five with Steven Learner

The Collective Design Fair launched in New York City in 2013 growing into a much-anticipated part of NYCxDESIGN every year, highlighting an expertly curated mix of modern art and design. The fair’s founder and creative director, Steven Learner, recognized a void in the cultural calendar and started the creative platform as a way to engage and entice viewers with innovative design and vibrant installations from independent designers, artists, and galleries. Learner earned a BFA from Los Angeles’ Otis Art Institute/Parsons School of Design and then a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design prior to his 20+ year career as both an architect and interior designer, including at his eponymous award-winning practice, Steven Learner Studio, where he has designed galleries, private museums, and residences. With Collective Design Fair 2018 in the rearview (it’s now held in March) and the capsule presentation, Collective Concept, coming up at ICFF, we thought we’d check in with the man himself and see what five things he’d pick for his Friday Five. Take a look.

Photo by Steven Learner

1. Chinati Foundation
My first introduction to minimalism came through the work of Donald Judd and so visiting the Chinati Foundation, his compound in West Texas, was akin to a pilgrimage for me. I visited in Marfa in 1994 before it was a common destination on the art scene, before there were galleries, chic hotels and a faux-Prada store. Judd saw himself as an architect as well as an artist and he possessed an incredible sense of scale, proportion and composition so he saw the inherent beauty in the industrial structures of this abandoned military base floating like mirages on the barren landscape. I still remember the feeling of infinity I felt standing in this place.

Photo courtesy of Steven Learner

2. Al Merça
I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to Venice many times for the Biennale, both the art and architecture editions and one of my ‘musts’ is a trip to Al Merca for the best panino in Venice.

Just cross the Rialto Bridge, through the crush of souvenir shops and tourists, and head toward the open air fish market and you’ll find yourself in a small campo along the canal. Nestled in an ancient arcade is a small shop window no more than eight-feet wide with a narrow counter and a small glass case. Inside the case is a cache of sandwiches the size of your fist laden with speck and gorgonzola, prosciutto and mozzarella and lardo, which is exactly what you think it is; lard on a roll. There are no seats, just a few standing tables where everyone balances these little gems along with a Campari soda or an Aperol spritz. But remember, these gems go fast so you have to get up early. And you must be willing to wash it down with a drink before 11am!

3. Russell Wright dishes
I began collecting these dishes over twenty years ago, with the first pieces coming from NYC flea markets and others gathered from California, Mexico and oddly, London. Though they were designed in the 40’s they still seem modern today with deep rich colors like bean brown, chartreuse, and cedar, a very subtle green. The designs range from the sculptural forms of pitchers and creamers to the perfect everyday dinner plates. At this point I could host dinner for 60 if I had a table large enough!

4. Sneakers
For years I wore the classic architect’s uniform: black suit, shirt and shoes.

Since I began Collective Design my work life has changed from meetings with lawyers and contractors to gallery crawls and studio visits. This has translated into a more relaxed wardrobe and a near obsession with sneakers.

My latest favorite is a classic pair of Adidas Gazelles in oxblood suede, my new everyday shoe. Sorry Prada…

Photo courtesy of Sesante

5. an elegant light
Sestante, a Japanese gallery that returned to Collective Design this year, brings a curated selection of elegant and poetic objects that I just want to live with. These simple cedar candle/lamps were born of a collaboration between a sculptor and designer from Kyoto City and are intended to evoke memories of “the sunshine leaking from the trees.”

Caroline Williamson is Editorial Director of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.