Thursday, September 6, 2012

Is curated overrated?

How much more often can the word “curated” appear in conversations and articles, and still make sense? And aren’t you under the impression that what curated really means is no more than what professional interior designers and interior decorators have been doing for years? If you agree, stick with me and let’s try to make sense of this.

                                                                                                            Byblos Arts Hotel

Just for the sake of formality, let’s check the definition of "curation":

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, it means “to select, organize, and present using professional or expert knowledge”, or “to organize and maintain a collection of artworks or artifacts.”

So there is professional expertise involved, but there is also selection. And the ability to select is not just one that comes from experience – it requires an understanding of what one is trying to achieve, it requires a reason or a concept that sets the boundaries for the selection. And if we push the definition, I would say it can’t be done successfully without intuition and culture.

                                                                                                           Byblos Arts Hotel

In today’s world, where we are flooded by redundant information, by ideas that are shared before they are fully processed and by countless versions of the same product, being able to select is essential. However, that ability is not on its own the answer to deal with the excess of things, let alone the way living spaces should be designed.

Yes, it is seemingly easy to find original products online (thank you, 1st Dibs). Yes, it is seemingly easy to find ideas (thank you, Pinterest). Yes, it is seemingly easy to put them  together (thank you, Olioboard). Yes, it is easy to find where the image came from (thank you, Google Images). But most of this does not amount to more than somewhat shallow experimentation.

To me, real curating is just another way to say “less is more”. It is the process by which designers and decorators edit the ideas that are less than perfect, the process by which layers are peeled to reveal elegance, crispness, scale and proportion – it is how timeless interiors are created. And no great designer has ever set-out to “curate”: either by intuition or by process, they imagine, then they test, then they search, then they combine, and then they might unveil an answer that is unique and that is possibly the right one.

I remember a moment, when still a design student, after a studio presentation for an art gallery project that had particularly inspired me, a colleague congratulated me and said: “You did great. You found the answer ”. At the time I thought that comment made no sense, as many designs would certainly produce an answer. But today, I go back very often to that elusive moment in which I had apparently come up with a design that made sense to other people. Did I ever think I had curated the space? Did I think I had curated the objects in that space? No, it was always part of a larger scheme, part of a broader effort to achieve unity in the design. In Ancient Rome this notion had a name: Ars Una – Art is One.

                                                                                                            Mondrian Miami

So if curation makes no sense when there is a designer involved, why is it such a popular buzzword?

I think it is a by-product of our times, of how the creative process in interior design has sometimes been so fragmented through specialist consultants, either due to reasons of liability or cost of service.

Maybe clients accept to curate when the scope of work is apparently too small to engage a designer – somehow it can simulate originality.

Or maybe clients accept to curate when their designers lack the ability to edit their designs, and they think that another partial specialist can fill that void.

Or maybe designers accept that they are curating when there isn’t enough time to come up with a real concept … maybe it is linked to money, maybe it is due to fast-track schedules, maybe it is linked to lack of original resources and maybe it is even linked to a lack of culture. Culture is not just acquired from experience, it is more the result of curiosity, travel, research and open-mindedness. And that is often lacking in young designers. 

I think the spaces that really appeal to us, the spaces that last, are never curated … they are designed.

Hotels provide great examples of properties where the unity of concept and where the integration of thoughtful ideas can determine their success and ensure a long-lasting design. I have been “curating”  a few images on my Pinterest board aptly named "Designed, not Curated". Below are some of my favorites, but you can explore the others, and why not recommend a few ...

This converted 16th century Palazzo, located in Verona, houses a permanent collection of work by the likes of Damien Hurst, Cindy Sherman, and Anish Kapoor. The art is so well integrated with the concept of the hotel and the spaces that guests experience,that nothing seems "too much", no art piece seems out of place, or even randomly selected. It is One.

The Villa Kennedy is a luxury hotel in Frankfurt nestled just off the south bank of the Main River in a wonderful villa landscape. Combining tradition and innovation, the hotel was built around the traditional 1904 Villa Speyer. It is tasteful addition to a historic building where finishes, furniture and art blend together seamlessly, all selected within a congruous and sophisticated palette that could belong to the original owners of the Villa.  

Roman and Williams have created original, eclectic, “seems to have been always there” spaces in this New York modern hospitality icon. It feels effortless and un-layered, and provides the feel of a room that could be our own. The permanently fully-booked lobby is a testament to its comfort.