Behind-The-Scenes At West Elm

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of going behind-the-scenes at West Elm’s HQ in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Only days before, former president Bill Clinton had also visited the office. He was there to learn more about the brand’s commitment to pay $35 million directly to artisans around the world who produce products for West Elm using handcrafted techniques — and the buzz of his visit still lingered, leaving everyone in high spirits.

I was soon being led past beautiful rooms where product for Holiday 2014 was perfectly styled and presented, and into the busy design offices where shelves were messily piled with samples, walls were littered with pictures and palettes, and the seeds of new ideas were being planted and grown.

Jonathan Orr, West Elm’s VP of design for textiles and decorative accessories, had recently returned with his team from Peru carrying armfuls of pottery, blankets, knits and photographs that were laid out on tables. Why Peru? Orr said something about it being “in the air” — you see a nod to it here, a hint of it there, and suddenly it’s of the moment… or it will be next spring and fall, when the designers at West Elm turn their inspirations into the pieces we’ll all be coveting in 2015.

Expect to see lots of fabulous fringe, shaggy textures, bright but earthy colours and beautifully woven textiles. I was surprised to discover that there’s a mini loom right in the office, which is used to work out patterns and create the samples that are later put into production.

Indeed, a lot of design work, at least in the initial stages, is still done the old fashioned way — by hand. In an area removed from the main offices, down a hallway and tucked behind industrial shelves stuffed with stock, was what amounted to an art studio. Pots of paint, colour-stained brushes and clusters of mini bottles topped with eye droppers crowded a long desk. I also spotted delicate watercolour sketches that may one day be turned into patterns for bedding and textiles.

Images painted for spring and summer 2015 had already made the leap from paper to pillows.

I was particularly excited to see these two mood boards. Alexander Calder is one of my favourite artists, and while Scandinavian mid-century is hardly a new idea in 2014, never mind 2015, I found myself swooning over the tangerine, midnight blue and cream palette. Perhaps it’s time for me to get my own hands dirty with a little paint.

Epilogue

While I was in New York, I spent the weekend at the new Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side. The hotel, which is owned by the same team behind The Marlton, opened its doors in early June and was still undergoing construction when I was there, but any resulting inconveniences were overshadowed by the serendipitous moments that came out of the dust. After a maintenance man visited my room to monitor the air conditioning, he kindly snuck me up to the unfinished rooftop to take in the incredible view and peer into the windows of the still-unfinished luxury suites. Once the hammers and the drills fall silent, I will be back.

This is the courtyard, where I enjoyed breakfast.

And here some professional pics of the rooms.

Photo credits:
1-10. Kimberley Brown
11-12. Ludlow Hotel

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