January 17, 2020

Interior Design’s Executive Editor Annie Block Moderates IFDA Panel: “The Future is Here”

 IFDA’s The Future is Here panelists (from left): Joseph Muscarella, Interior Design‘s Annie Block, Challie Stillman, and Michael K. Chen. Photography by Kevin Lau for IFDA. 

The International Furnishings and Design Association hosted a panel discussion last night called The Future is Here: How We Live and Work Today,” which touched on strategies for staying ahead of unforeseeable disruptions in the industry. The event, moderated by Interior Design’s Executive Editor Annie Block, drew a sizable crowd to the Resource Furniture Showroom in Manhattan to posit the evolution of current design trends and practices.

“Change is the new constant,” said Block as she kicked off the discussion, which featured residential, workplace, and product trends experts: Michael K. Chen, principal at Michael K Chen Architecture (MKCA); Joseph Muscarella, head of design strategy at Knotel; and Challie Stillman, design director at Resource Furniture. “Nowadays, the workplace looks like the home, the hospital looks like a hospitality space … we’re in what I like the call ‘the big blur,’” Block added, as many nodded in agreement.

To drive home her point, Block shared an image of a sleek bar area—part of Campari’s new North American headquarters in Manhattan—challenging attendees to name the type of project on display. Even in a room full of designers, most guessed that the photo depicted a contemporary hospital café or boutique hotel, not a workplace.  

As the discussion unfolded, panelists shared insights about how the melding sectors will continue to impact specification. “We need to demand more of our furniture,” offered Muscarella, who works with his team at Knotel to manage office spaces and furnishing for companies that opt not to commit to long-term leases in one building. For the greatest return on investment, Muscarella stressed that designers should look beyond floor plans, focusing instead on company values to create spaces that resonate with the people in them.   

Chen elaborated on this idea, sharing images of residential projects with surprising features designed to meet specific client needs, such as a bathroom with luminescent walls that “comes alive” with glowing swirls when the lights dim.

“When you inquire about what humans really need, you find something that is marketable,” added Stillman. Going forward, she expects to see more specification of reveal and conceal furnishings, which easily disguise one’s belongings and technology, height-adjustable furnishings, and multi-purpose pieces. “People want flexibility and they want balance in their lives,” she said as the panel concluded.

Throughout the evening, guests mingled over passed hors d’oeuvres and sampled the array of space-saving furniture on display in the showroom, such as a couch that transitions into a set of bunk beds and a slim console that morphs into a table for 12. “Our furnishings are all about maximizing your space; they’re multi-functional,” says Ron Barth, co-founder of the Resource Furniture Showroom. “We’re big supporters the IFDA, so we love to have all the members here for an event like this.”

IFDA has a long history of pushing forward the dialogue about the future of design. The group, initially founded in the late 1940s by six women in the industry who wanted to expand their influence, quickly grew into an organization with a broader scope and reach. Today, IFDA has 11 chapters throughout the United States as well as international members-at-large representing all facets of the furnishings and design sector.

“We wanted to host tonight’s event to really consider: Where are we, as an industry, going?” offered David Santiago, co-president of the IFDA New York chapter and owner of the interior design firm Casa Santi. “We’re really at a moment where we need to rethink how we relate to what’s happening in the world.

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