At this year’s Ambiente, the United States is being highlighted as the Partner Country. New York-based American designer Scott Henderson has designed a creative and distinctly American exhibit. I spoke with him about his inspiration and how he feels about representing the United States at Ambiente:
What is the overall inspiration for your exhibition at Ambiente? What about it is distinctly American?
With a theme a broad as “The United States”, deciding on a direction to go in seemed remarkably challenging. Since Ambiente is a show about consumer goods, I thought about what products I could use as inspiration that are uniquely American but less expected than say, a Cadillac with tail fins. I always loved the classic and uniquely American Adirondack Chair. I usually think of them as viewed from the back, with a body of water in front of them—a classic image that inspires feelings of serenity. I think mixing iconic tradition with a fresh and clever twist is a formula for high-impact. I decided to make Adirondack chairs that were 9 feet tall—absolutely gargantuan in scale, facing a curved wall emblazoned with an image of the sea which, and because of the way the wall is designed, it gives the visitor the feeling they are high on a cliff looking down at the ocean below. My display tables are abstractly representing plant life growing about these giant chairs. I placed two classic residential mail boxes at each end of the 150 foot long exhibit, with their red flags in the ‘up’ position and adorned with American flags; the only direct reference to the United States—allowing the mind to connect to the theme only through the combination of images and symbols.
How do you feel this will be perceived and used by those in attendance?
The name I chose for the exhibition is Seashore Galore, which goes along with the feeling I am hoping the exhibition will have once it’s built—one of lightness, freshness and a compelling visual draw. Because of the importance and weight of the USA theme, I think people will perceive the exhibit in ways that extend well beyond simple notions of lightness and freshness. I think these discussions are good and I hope the exhibit gives people plenty to talk about and think about while they attend Ambiente.
I selected product from US exhibitors showing at Ambiente elsewhere in the show. The Partner Country Exhibit is intended to create special awareness of these USA exhibitors so that the show attendees can go see more of their products in their main booths at the show.
Where did you get the idea of Adirondack Chairs and the ocean view?
I studied a range of concepts before sketching this idea that uses gigantic Adirondack Chairs. My first idea was much more aligned with what you would expect to see as a contemporary architectural statement. However, I put myself in the shoes of the attendees at the show, and I saw myself walking right past it, not because it wasn’t well done, but because I could imagine the feeling of being jaded by all the technology and contemporary architectural concepts flying around out there. As a child, my family vacationed in the Adirondack Mountains on lake and there were these chairs there facing the water—that memory was the spark, and perfect for a consumer good trade fair because Adirondack chairs are products as well as furniture. Then I thought about making them huge—a whimsical aspect making people want to stop, absorb and interact with the exhibit rather than just glazing over.
What is the significance of the US Mailbox?
My use of two US residential mailboxes is another detail that humanizes the exhibit. The classic American residential mail box has a red flag that pivots up and tells the mail carrier that there is outgoing mail to be collected. I thought it would add to the intended whimsical nature of the exhibit to have this flag in the “up” position with a graphic of the American flag on it, as a subtle and yet direct reference to The United States.
How do you feel about being the US representative and designer for this exhibition in Frankfurt at Ambiente?
I was very honored and excited about being asked to do this project.
Who are some of your favorite current American designers?
The great design firms like Lunar, Frog, IDEO, New Deal, Fuse Project, MNML, Smart Design, and many others like the Apple design team, do some of the best product design work in the US, and their teams embody some of the best American designers. There are also many small independent American designers doing incredible work in places like Brooklyn (where I am from), some of whom are represented in my exhibit. It’s a great time for American designers.
What do you think is unique about American design?
I think because American heritage is relatively young, American design expresses a sense of expression that doesn’t adhere to known or strict design conventions—yielding unexpectedness. Great American design expresses optimism through clear, clean thought and singular, crisp innovation that you can see and identify with on a human level.
We’re very excited to be attending this year’s fair and we’ll be sure to catch up with Scott on-site and also bring you some of our show favorites.