Celebrities go into design

A door lever designed by singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz. The Ibis sofa (left), inspired by ancient Egypt, is part of a furniture collection by former professional football player Terry Crews (above).

Stars from fields such as entertainment and sports are trying their hand at creating furniture and home accessories

Terry Crews has an enviable resume: former professional football player; actor on television series Brooklyn Nine-Nine; star in the Expendables movie franchise; and, according to People magazine, one of the sexiest men alive.

But there is a new job title that he finds especially thrilling: furniture designer.

"There's nothing more satisfying," he said, discussing his first collection of furniture for Bernhardt Design, which will be presented during the ICFF furniture fair in New York later this month.

"I want something beautiful. I want something special. I want to see something I did with my own hands that touches the world."

Crews has long had a creative side. He studied graphic design at Western Michigan University on an art scholarship.

As a player in the National Football League, he painted portraits of teammates for about US$5,000 each to make ends meet when he was cut from teams. In recent years, he has also developed an irrepressible passion for design.

The Ibis sofa (above), inspired by ancient Egypt, is part of a furniture collection by former professional football player Terry Crews.

He speaks about his April trip last year to the Salone del Mobile design fair in Milan the way other people may talk about attending Vanity Fair's Oscar party.

Weeks later, he also visited NYCxDesign, where he met Mr Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design.

Upon learning of Crews' artistic background, Mr Helling proposed a collaboration.

The resulting collection comprises three designs inspired by ancient Egypt: the Ibis sofa, which has a long, shapely back resembling outstretched wings; tables named Float with smooth, rounded edges resembling pebbles softened by the Nile River; and the Lily Pad chair, which blossoms with a seat and tabletop on a single elevated platform.

"Terry's sofa is the best thing we've ever done," said Mr Helling, who has spent years working with design luminaries such as Swiss designer Yves Behar and Welsh designer Ross Lovegrove.

Crews is not the only successful creative professional from another field to turn his attention to designing furniture and home accessories.

A door lever designed by singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz.

Talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres introduced a line of furniture for Thomasville and a collection of rugs and pillows for Loloi earlier this year, and has curated an exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Actor Brad Pitt is at work on a second furniture collection with Pollaro after releasing his first range in 2012. Singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz designed door levers and cabinet pulls for Rocky Mountain Hardware and a furniture collection for CB2.

Suddenly, it seems, designing furniture and objects for the home is the most coveted job around. At Bernhardt, Mr Helling has also developed new upholstery fabrics with singer-songwriter Tift Merritt.

The upside of working with such unconventional designers, he said, goes beyond the marketing boost that comes with a celebrity name.

Unlike experienced professionals, "they don't know all the things they're not supposed to do", said Mr Helling. "It's a clean slate. It comes from their heart rather than being an academic exercise."

Why would highly accomplished individuals from other creative fields bother with designing furniture and fabrics?

"It's just so exciting to see an idea come to life," said Merritt, who collects vintage ribbon and has used some to make her own guitar straps.

Mr Helling is a long-time fan of Merritt's music and every time they met, "he always wanted to talk music and I always wanted to talk

They don't know all the things they're not supposed to do. It's a clean slate. It comes from their heart rather than being an academic exercise.

MR JERRY HELLING, president of Bernhardt Design, on working with celebrities to design furniture

design", she said.

"I had been hoping for many years that he might give me a shot at making something."

When he finally did, she used her ribbon collection as inspiration for a line of six striped fabrics with names such as Verse, Reverb and Swing.

Such cross-disciplinary design collaborations are increasingly common, said Mr Joel Towers, executive dean of Parsons School of Design.

"There's a real breakdown in boundaries," he said, where creative people are no longer expected to stick to their specialities. "Some of these people are performers who really understand their audience and the sense of what people desire. These are all key components of design."

He also pointed to social media, where celebrities often share pictures of their homes and personal style choices.

The idea that people can then get involved in designing those style choices "feels very much of our time", he said. "It's about design being more democratised."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline 'Celebrities go into design'. Print Edition | Subscribe