THE CRANBROOK ALUM BRINGING DESIGN CRED BACK TO DETROIT

September 30, 2018

“Through my studies and looking back to my days at Cranbrook, I realized Detroit has this great design legacy,” says Isabelle Weiss, DECASO dealer and founder of Detroit-based gallery NEXT:SPACE. “However, it is a legacy that most people have either forgotten about, or never knew about—especially when it comes to furniture.”

Detroit’s stake as a design capital may be eclipsed by its Motor City and Motown fame, but that’s not to say it can’t lay a compelling claim. Like Weiss, design legends Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, and Ray and Charles Eames was part of Detroit’s Cranbrook Educational Community. For Weiss, Detroit’s design legacy isn’t one that she’s inclined to forget, nor assume is water under the bridge. “NEXT:SPACE was my solution to not only provide a much needed platform for contemporary design in Detroit, but to ensure Detroit’s design legacy continues to develop and flourish,” she says.

With Weiss recently named the “de facto contemporary design guru of Detroit” by Architectural Digest and Next:Space poised to be, well, the next big thing, we’re talking with Weiss more about Cranbrook, how her past life as an auction appraiser encouraged her jumpstart NEXT:SPACE, and how the color blue influenced her upcoming show house design with fellow DECASO dealer, Tom Gibbs. With wits, humor, and passion to spare, Weiss is a dealer for the next generation.

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Weiss in gallery with works by Chad Wentzel MADE. Photo by Lisa Spindler.

You actually attended Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School—part of the same family of schools that design legends like Florence Knoll and Ray and Charles Eames attended. How did that experience shape your passions when it came to design?
Cranbrook is quite the utopian place, there really is nothing like it. Nowadays, I do a lot of studio visits at the Art Academy and it is surreal to think that I used to walk around that campus everyday. As a high school student, I was less aware of the major impact of the Saarinens and the Eames on the world. I was more intrigued by the sheer beauty of the buildings inside and out, and the fact that as a 15-year-old student in America, I could study in an art museum or zen garden on any given afternoon.

Cranbrook nurtured within me a certain sensibility—I would say an acute awareness and appreciation for detail, intention, and “forward-thinkingness.” Without my experience at Cranbrook, my approach to design would be quite different. In fact, I wonder if I would even be working in design at all.

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Fairfax Lounger and Bowden Pendant by Colin Tury. Available through Next:SPACE. Photo by Heather Saunders.

You previously worked as an appraiser and the director of a boutique auction house. How did those experiences factor into you launching NEXT:SPACE in 2014?
It is interesting that I ended up working with contemporary design since my background is rooted in the historical! After studying the History of Art and working in the secondary market, I realized that the type of market analysis I was doing to valuate, say, a Paul Evans cabinet, could be instrumental in developing a strong contemporary design market. By understanding how the market for a specific design develops over time, and what factors contribute to an object’s economic appreciation, we can shape the current market. Hence, I see my role as a historian for the future.

I always joke that I have given myself the job of helping the appraisers 50 years from now. When they discover how thoughtfully documented NEXT:SPACE design is and realize that everything has clear maker’s marks their job will be easy!

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Layering Transparency Glass Works by Nina Cho. Available through Next:SPACE.

What do you think makes NEXT:SPACE truly unique?
I am very much driven by the idea that design history starts in the studio. Likewise, this is at the foundation of the NEXT:SPACE mission; to support independent studio designers. I think NEXT:SPACE is unique in that we focus on the future historical value of each object. We certainly represent work for its aesthetic value, level of craftsmanship, and thoughtfulness of design, but it must also be a strong representation of how we live now and  how the future thinks. Yes, I think furniture thinks! It has to.

What’s your favorite part of your job right now?
When a designer thanks me for producing a show, or closing a project, or selling their first chair. In those moments, I know I am making a difference for the design community here in Detroit.

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Wright Settee and Side Table by Hunt and Noyer. Available through Next:SPACE. Photo by Heather Saunders.

We are intrigued by the “Blue Room,” which is popping up all over your Instagram. Can you tell us more about it?
The Blue Room! The room is a collaboration between NEXT:SPACE and TOM GIBBS STUDIO. It is also the only room designed by furniture dealers in the ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME + Junior League of Detroit 2018 Designer Show House. The house itself is a historic mansion in the Boston Edison neighborhood of Detroit. It was built by Charles T. Fisher in the early 1920s. Tom Gibbs and I decided to design a monochromatic room to emphasize the importance of craftsmanship and design innovation. Through a curation of vintage and bespoke contemporary furniture and decor we transformed the room into a meditation on the color blue. In fact, one of the pieces, by Detroit ceramicist Elysia Vandenbussche is titled Meditation in Blue!

From inky, black-blues to cobalt and even periwinkle, the curatorial challenge of exploring the depth and tone of blue became a fascinating study in material and detail. As a result, my whole summer was spent meeting designers in their studio to review blue material samples and agonizing over just the right shade of blue for the walls that would tie everything together. For a month I toted around an array of painted blue boards to show my friends and look at in different light. Glamorous life, right?!

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Curated by NEXT:SPACE in collaboration with TOM GIBBS STUDIO. Photo by Jeff Garland.

Is there anything else coming up for NEXT:SPACE that you’re particularly excited about?
So many things! This has been a big year for NEXT:SPACE in terms of designer relations, brand development, and a new showroom. Similarly, next year is shaping up to be just as exciting! I am really excited to have several opportunities for NEXT:SPACE to start importing Detroit design to new markets. This has been a huge goal of mine, ever since NEXT:SPACE was just an idea in a notebook.

I’m also excited about the ongoing SHAPE Exhibition Series. We just launched the series with TOM GIBBS STUDIO for the Month of Design, and it will be continuing through February 2019. In the series we examine five practices of good design as part of the Michigan Design Icons series.

You’ve just recently joined DECASO! What do you love about it so far?
Actually, for the very reason above. The opportunity to share Detroit design with an international audience is exciting. I have been following DECASO from the beginning, and I appreciate the curatorial and editorial facets of the platform. Above all, I see design editorial as a way to help the Mid-Century and contemporary design markets stay relevant. Not to mention, adapt with new buying and collecting habits.

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Lead photo by Jeff Garland

Blue Room Photo: Featuring the Bluebell Pendant by Alex Drew and NO ONE, STOP0X7B, Rug by paulaschubatis, Layering Transparency Glass Objects by Nina Cho, OORT Side Table by Colin Tury, ‘Meditation in Blue’ Porcelain Paintings by Elysia Vandenbussche, Lawless Lamp by Evan Fay from NEXT:SPACE. Lucite Table, Arne Jacobsen Pot Chair and other decorative objects from TOM GIBBS STUDIO.