29 Nov Meet 9 Detroit designers making the city extra festive this season
It’s hard to imagine something in Detroit that provokes as much nostalgia as the former Hudson’s downtown — double it for the holiday season, when the department store went overboard with the decorations, Santa shop, window displays, it goes on. People came from far and wide to check out the seven-story tree of lights and do their shopping.
Davey LaFave grew up in the Upper Peninsula and remembers driving down with his family each year for their traditional holiday trip to Hudson’s, capped off with their own spin on a classic Detroit Christmas — hamburgers at Telway.
Hudson’s closed, then the building was leveled. But LaFave (based in Ann Arbor) still comes downtown for the holiday window displays — now, to bring them to life. He’s a visual merchandiser and window dresser, deep in his busy season, and this year one of the designers featured in the Holiday Holiday Window Walk competition put on by the Detroit Center for Design + Technology (Lawrence Technological University’s home in the city).
For the competition’s second year, the DCDT Design Incubator paired eight business in Midtown and Capitol Park with local designers and artists to create holiday window displays.
A couple design pros will pick the winning windows (with a $500 and $250 prize), but they’re also considering popular opinion. You can stroll by the shops and post a photo of your favorite to social media tagged with @detdesigntech and #HolidayWindowWalk18 before Dec. 4 to vote. First, though, meet the designers working behind the (window) scenes to make Detroit festive this season.
Oh, and not to tarnish anyone’s cherished memories of Christmas shopping downtown… but we’d take any of these windows in a heartbeat over this display of nightmare dolls in a Hudson’s window in 1961.
Fernando Bales and Elise DeChard: Third Man Records
Cofounders, CAMPO Collective / @campo_collective
Fernando Bales and Elise DeChard riffed on graphic elements in the Third Man Records shop for their window display, a bold and colorful twist on hanging ornaments.
“We took inspiration from the motto ‘your turntable’s not dead!’ and hacked a few turntables to make the forms twirl,” The CAMPO designers told Detour. “Credit also goes to the scene in ‘Home Alone’ where Kevin uses a record player to make a mannequin spin during his fake holiday party — that was a huge inspiration to us!”
Niki Tischler: La Lanterna
Associate Architect and designer, Et Al. Collaborative /@nikitischler
Niki Tischler describes herself as “generally a Renaissance woman of Design ;)” — seems like a good fit. For her design, Tischler wanted a contrast of heavy and light, and landed on lighting design built with plaster. Her golden, glowing snowballs look pretty elegant, but have a more fun inspiration.
“The best part of the design was that it naturally came [out of] a form which mimics the pizza dough being created in the kitchen of La Lanterna,” she said.
Tischler, in her first year of living in Detroit, plans to make ice skating downtown part of her city holiday tradition.
Michael O’Reilly: Eatori Market
Founder, Brightwire Designs / @brightwire_designs
Michael O’Reilly’s installation is made of delicately woven gold and silver wire balls. “The feeling I wanted to give this installation is ethereal sparkly weightlessness, with a touch of darkness,” he said.
Design heroes of history: “All the industrial designers, engineers and architects from long ago, who built things to last, without looking for personal glory.”
Jennifer Bueso: Go! Sy Thai Midtown location
Painter and Interior designer, Mcintosh Poris Associates /@Jenbueso
The dreamy and almost touchable flowers adorning the windows of Go! Sy Thai, oil paintings on illustration board, aren’t as obviously holiday-themed.
“My focal point for this project is a lot like my paintings, I want to create a moment where the viewer can escape,” said artist Jennifer Bueso. In this case, the tropical flowers are a brief reprieve from the wintery chill.
Leah Strayhorn: RUNDetroit
You have to go to RUNDetroit to really get a feel for Leah Strayhorn’s hand-drawn animation and the playful illustrations of bundled-up runners scooting across the storefront. Strayhorn, 20, is a student at Lawrence Tech and tries to make work that’s enjoyable and honest.
Gjergji Prendi: Pure Barre Detroit
Creative director, créateur studio /@createurstudio
The small team at créateur studio just opened their Ann Arbor architecture and design studio in 2017; this year they opened a second location in Tirana, Albania. Principal Gjergji Prendi turned the round frosted logo emblazoned on the window of the Pure Barre studio into a projector screen with quick-changing video of Detroit movement — like “a portal,” Prendi explained.
Prendi is almost too cheerful about the season: “Winters in Detroit are fun! There is an inner energy about this city that always keeps the city warm.”
Joshua Mulligan: Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria and Brewery
2D animator and illustrator, Mulligan Art / @jmulliart
Joshua Mulligan, figuring out how to translate his practice to window design on the fly, settled on vinyl decals. His decorations, illustrations in white around the windows at Jolly Pumpkin, are meant to evoke frost beginning to form at the cold edges.
He’s got a glass-half-full take on the coming snowstorms: “My favorite part of the holiday season is when the whole city is covered in snow. I think its always an adventure trying to navigate through a fresh snowfall before everything gets plowed.”
Davey LaFave: Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters
Freelance window dresser and visual merchandiser
LaFave probably has the most experience with window design in the group. “Visual merchandisers, we’re like dinosaurs in the retail world,” he said. “People don’t have budgets for us anymore.”
Not an issue for LaFave, who gave himself the challenge of spending no money on his window for Dessert Oasis. He scavenged lights and ornaments from garage sales. Someone gave him an old sled. He scored sheets of clear acrylic from an industrial waste vendor, which he used to make “ice.”
LaFave said he wanted to create a design in the spirit of the coffee shop’s modern interior while also mixing in some of the warmth of old things and memories.
Design he loves in Detroit: “The Fisher Building. The lines of art deco have always been inspiring to me.”