The Life of the Party
David Stark expands from event design to pop-up shops, tableware, and a book
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 7/1/2010 5:42:00 PM
Customers suffered recession amnesia when West Elm unveiled its David Stark holiday collection last October. The event designer's ornaments, place mats, and vases-many made from reused glass bottles and corrugated cardboard and none priced above $99-sold out by Thanksgiving. So West Elm was more than happy to offer its New York flagship to fete the subsequent release of David Stark Design, published by the Monacelli Press. Stark, in turn, upped the ante for the event by designing a pop-up boutique there: the (Purely Paper) Flower Shoppe, a freestanding structure built entirely from recycled paper. Currently designing another West Elm collection, this one featuring similarly holiday-worthy items made from book pages, he paused to talk about work and play.
Are the West Elm products a departure from your event designs?
It's an exciting new effort, but the philosophy and work ethic that go into it are the same. Our events are filled with our products, so it's a natural extension to make those products available for sale. The difference is that, instead of aiming for a specific party with a specific date on the calendar, I have to invent the party and the make-believe date, and everybody is invited.
Has paper always played a role in your work?
Yes, paper has always been a very important part of our events, whether we're shredding office paper for the Cooper-Hewitt's National Design Awards or applying paint chips to the Benjamin Moore space at DIFFA's Dining by Design. It's very natural to mine that territory.
Philosophically, is it about creating the sublime from humble materials?
Yes. For a recent Tate gala, for example, I made centerpieces of colored pencils in wave formations to tie in with art. I feel that lends a richness and conceptual value. Otherwise, it's an empty decorative experience. Or, if I'm throwing a book party, what could be better than making the party out of books? Then again, does that mean that someday my own book will become mere fodder for someone else's installation? I'm constantly striving to create art. To have good art, there must always be contradictions to play with.
How did you land upon the idea of a pop-up store for your book launch?
A lot of books come out every month-with an awful lot of book parties. I knew I needed a differentiating factor to get the world's attention. Plus, I'm really touched that Monacelli thought my staff and I were worthy of a monograph. I felt an obligation to honor that compliment with an experience that was on par.
What set the (Purely Paper) Flower Shoppe apart from a permanent store?
Retail spaces usually have to be neutral backgrounds, because the product is ever changing. Whatever is coming in has to look good, in whatever season, regardless of what's going on in the world politically, emotionally, or otherwise. Because we know exactly what product a pop-up store is stocking, we can create a fantasy setting to support that product very specifically. At the Liberty of London for Target pop-up I did in New York, I made the interior as kaleidoscopic as possible with oversize printed graphics and video projections in Liberty patterns. I would never have been able to do that long-term. A pop-up is retail as entertainment, a party in the form of a store.
Can you reconcile pop-ups or parties with genuine sustainability?
Well, when I was asked to decorate a trash can for a DIFFA fund-raiser sponsored by a trash-can manufacturer, I thought it would be ironic-and great fun-to dress my can in trash, specifically discarded cardboard. Trash became the star of the show.
Do you consciously pursue these messages?
I'm not Daryl Hannah. Parties are essentially wasteful, and there will never be a party that doesn't produce waste. So we try to approach them with a little more sensitivity, to execute them in a more thoughtful way. That means not only producing parties more efficiently but also making a commentary on the problem of waste. I'm as interested in the dichotomy of the question as I am in solving the conundrum.