Future stars win Design Emphasis competition

Since its inception in the early 1990s, the Design Emphasis Awards competition has grown to become one of the most recognized events of the home furnishings industry, showcasing the best in design from the nation's next generation of product designers.

The Design Emphasis finalists had their pieces displayed at IWF 2010.

An IWF show hallmark, the competition is open to all students enrolled in an accredited college or university and to those enrolled in an undergraduate furniture design course at the time the entry is designed.

This year's Design Emphasis winners were announced Aug. 24 on the eve of the opening of IWF 2010 in Atlanta. Fifty finalists were chosen from 180 entries. First-place category winners were:

  • Seating and Accent: Melissa Engler, Haywood Community College in Clyde, N.C.
  • Commercial: Ross McCoy, Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.
  • Casegoods: Erik Warnik, Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan.
  • Design: Vanessa Choi, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

McCoy, principal of Ross McCoy Design in Wichita, Kan., also won the Best of Show award for "One Bench," a sleek, orange design made from MDF, covered in fiberglass and hot-rod paint. Most of the shaping of the piece was done with a 5-axis CNC router, but countless hours were spent hand-sculpting the forms.

McCoy says the contest is a great opportunity for students to network, market and have their work judged by industry professionals. "I feel that my project helped to showcase one of many possibilities that technology can help create. There are no straight lines on the entire piece. This creates dynamic ever-changing shapes from any position you view the piece. From the bright paint job to the sculptural form, this design was meant to reach out and grab the attention of those around."

Melissa Engler's winning entry in the accent category, the "Swallowtail Writing Desk."

"The caliber of this year's Design Emphasis entries was, unquestionably, the highest quality overall that I've observed over the past decade," says Jaclyn Hirschhaut, the 2010 Design Emphasis chair and vice president of public relations and marketing for American Home Furnishings Alliance. "These rising furniture designers delivered products developed with a keen awareness of today's consumer lifestyle in outstanding execution. The attention to detail in the finished samples as well as the presentation boards was superb."

Other judges were Dixon Bartlett of HB2 Resources in Atlanta; Karen Driskell, professor at Bauder College in Atlanta; Chris Hankins of Chris Hankins Designs in High Point, N.C.; Hank Long, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Hooker Furniture Corp. in Martinsville, Va.; Heather Paper, senior editor at Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles; and Max Shangle, dean of Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Shangle commented on McCoy's piece, describing the overall craftsmanship as amazing. "The construction was intense, the use of technology was evident and it just made a really strong statement about the evolution of technology and the use of materials in the woodworking industry. I think I was one of the judges who called the thing just plain flat-out sexy."

Ross McCoy's "One Bench" won the commercial category and the Best of Show award.

Engler's two firsts were for two pieces - a chair and a desk. "I often work with unusual angles, asymmetry and subtle curves," she says. "The 'Lift' chair was inspired by the simplicity, attention to detail and often light airy quality of Hans Wegner's work. The 'Swallowtail Writing Desk' borrows from the contours of a bird, a wing-derived shape for the top and the suggestion of a swallow's tail in the overlapping stretchers."

Warnick, winner of the case goods category, hopes the award will help launch his woodworking career. "Winning a category in the IWF Design Emphasis competition is very prestigious," he says. "It also proves to future employers that I can not only build and engineer pieces, but I can design them as well. It is something that very few people in the woodworking industry can say that they have won."

This article originally appeared in the November 201 issue.

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