INTERVIEW WITH KARLA JONES AT THE BIENENSTOCK FURNITURE LIBRARY
The Future Designers Summit brings together some of the best and brightest young minds for the future benefit of the home furnishings industry.
Karla Jones has been the executive director at the Bienenstock Furniture Library for over a decade, but her familiarity with the institution goes back to her college years. Then, as an aspiring design student, she worked for N.I. (Sandy) Bienenstock, the Library’s founder and long-time publisher of Furniture World Magazine.
In 2021, the Library held its first Bienenstock Future Designers Summit. It’s an all-expense paid three-day event held in September to introduce talented students attending accredited design programs to the possibilities available to them in the home furnishings industry.
Furniture World asked Jones about the genesis of the Summit and how the event benefits students, our industry and the future of home furnishing design.
“The summit was born,” she recalled, “from a discussion about the future of the Bienenstock Furniture Library. A big part of our mission has always included outreach to furniture design and interior design students. Since the Library’s founding in 1970 we’ve introduced generations of students to the benefits of accessing our unique collection of over 5,000 books and periodicals. The rigorously structured furniture and design competitions as well as scholarship awards over the years have helped to further their education and careers. The Library’s motto, ‘Touch history, design the future’ encapsulates the belief held by our board of directors that in this creative industry, the essence of any design experience is building on what has come before.”
Most Talented Students
“Many of the students who’ve participated in the Student Designers Summit have never heard about the High Point market. Design schools tend to teach the technical and creative aspects of design. Often though, the bigger picture of our multi-disciplined industry gets lost.
“The idea is to give them up close and personal networking and mentoring opportunities that cannot be presented in a classroom.“
“The Summit brings some of the most talented college juniors and seniors majoring in design fields to High Point. The idea is to give them up close and personal networking and mentoring opportunities that cannot be presented in a classroom. It’s a mind-opening and often a career-changing look at the possibilities in this big, wonderful, complicated industry.”
“The 2021 and 2022 Summits featured inspirational key-note speakers including product developer and trend analyst Patti Carpenter, Caroline Hipple, president of Norwalk Furniture, Jane Dagmi, Managing Director of High Point x Design, and Young Huh the well-known founder of Huh Interior Design full-service design, specializing in residential and commercial interiors.
“Students participated in round table discussions and listened to presentations about trend forecasting, textile selection and product construction. They were fascinated by the hidden world that goes on behind the scenes, sometimes years before finished products appear on social media, in stores, or are available through interior designers.
“The furniture industry understands the importance of the Future Designers Summit and has generously sponsored students to make it completely free including meals, programs, entertainment, transportation and hotel stays.”
A Hands-on Itinerary
“Beyond the presentations,” Jones continued, “Students benefit from meeting and working with students from other major design schools. This broadens their understanding about how creative minds across design disciplines can work together. On the first day, they participate in a design charette as a team-building exercise. They break up into groups with each team having one hour to complete a product design assignment. Then each team presents their results and the winner is chosen.”
When asked how students are chosen to participate, Jones replied that “the Bienenstock Furniture Library has always cultivated relationships with design schools. This year we accepted competitive applications for students studying in disciplines including interior design, interior architecture, furniture design, industrial design and textile design. Participating institutions included Kendall College of Art & Design, Parsons, Appalachian State University, Savannah College of Art & Design, FIT, University of Kentucky, NCSU, High Point University, Mt. Mary University, Randolph Community College, Salem College, Western Carolina University, SUNY, Indiana University, UNC Greensboro and Pratt. We’re expanding our outreach to new programs every year.
“Bringing more creative talent
into the mainstream of the furniture business benefits retailers with better
products and ideas. These students are the future of our industry.”
The Summit wouldn’t happen without the passion that members of the board at the Bienenstock Furniture Library bring to the table. Beyond that, many leaders in our industry provide financial support that includes funding for scholarships awarded during the final hours of the Summit.
“Major participating sponsors include Broyhill Family Foundation, J Black Design, Universal Furniture, The Earl and Kathryn Congdon Family Foundation, High Point Market Authority, Davis Furniture, Century Furniture, Otto & Moore, Savour Partnership, Nancy Fire Designs, International Market Centers, Gwen Emery, Leggett & Platt, Jillian O’Neill, Norwalk Furniture, Crypton Fabrics, Tomlinson Erwin Lambeth, Barbour Spangle Design, 220 Elm, AHFA, High Point Discovered and Richard Frinier Design Studio; as well as contributors Alderman Company, Jane Dagmi, Culp, Visit High Point, HPxD, the Phillips Collection and Verellen. The International Society of Furniture Designers has been a big supporter as well.”
Tours & Experiences
Jones further explained that “Students were thrilled to have hands-on exposure to ideas and processes they had only heard about.”
Norwalk Furniture: “At the Norwalk showroom, Caroline Hipple gave an inspiring presentation about how Norwalk uncovers trends and chooses fabrics. The students felt like they were receiving insider information presented in a way that they could never have heard anywhere else. Since the Summit was held right after Premarket, the showrooms students visited were fully set up. After the Summit, the Library received many thank-you notes that cited Hipple as an inspiration and role model. It was an ‘I want to be like Caroline’ moment.”
Alderman Company: “Alderman company is, of course, an amazing studio that does product photography, TV work and website development. It builds sets, does photo shoots for magazines, catalog work and much more. At Alderman, students got to see a day in the life of a photography studio that specializes in working with the furniture industry. It was definitely an exciting tour.”
Plant Tours: “Plant tours at Verellen, Davis furniture and Jessica Charles presented them with opportunities to speak with plant employees to get an idea of what happens all the way from design conception to product completion.”
Century & Phillips Collection: “The Century Furniture showroom tour was another excellent experience. Mark Phillips took students through Phillips Collection’s entire operation. He spoke about sustainability as well as branding strategies for developing company culture. Sustainability is a passion for many of the students who attend the Summit. They were impressed by the sustainability components of the Phillips Collection line.”
Roundtable Event: “During our industry roundtable event, students were sorted into small groups then met with industry professionals who spoke on topics relative to their fields of expertise. Students were encouraged to ask questions before moving on to the next presenters.
“The roundtable portion of the program is a way for students to gain confidence and prepare for the job interviews that will begin for most of them within a year,” Jones explained. “They are made aware of what we’re trying to accomplish in this regard. I meet with each of them several times via Zoom meetings in advance of the Summit to prepare them to speak up. To get the benefit, they have to engage with the process and take advantage of every moment. I haven’t been disappointed in how they’ve performed.”
“The industry roundtable is held on the grounds of the Bienenstock Furniture Library. While here, they get an introduction to the Library’s collection and facilities. Students tour the rare book room full of significant volumes dating back to the 16th century. For students, seeing what’s available becomes a light bulb moment as they realize that using the Internet, including social media platforms, isn’t always the best way to inform and further their natural design talents in the home furnishings industry.”
Benefits for High Point
In conclusion, Karla Jones told Furniture World that the dates for next year’s summit are September 20-22, right after Premarket.
“We have so many creative resources available here in High Point 365 days each year for the design, art and home furnishings industries,” she said.“ And we hope they came away realizing that this city is a great place to learn, collaborate and perhaps to work.”
Shout Out to Retailers in 2023
Finally, Furniture World asked Karla Jones if the Future Designers Summit provides benefits to Furniture World’s retailer readers. She replied, “Bringing more creative talent into the mainstream of the furniture business, of course, benefits retailers with better products and ideas. These students are the future of our industry.
“We’ve come to realize, however, that the Future Designers Summit will benefit from incorporating speakers and mentors from the retail sector into the Bienenstock Library’s Summit program. Without considering retailers’ expectations for what can and will be sold at retail, product design can’t fulfill its fullest realization. Retailers are the ultimate link to consumers. We would like to include retail speakers and mentors into our 2023 program. Perhaps this interview will be a shout-out for interested retailers to step forward.”
“We have so many creative resources available here in High Point 365 days each year for the design, art and home furnishings industries.”