As a junior designer at Delawie architecture and interior design firm, Lauren Bencivengo has a chance to help on everything from construction plans to picking out wallpaper while also preparing to take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.
The 23-year-old, who hails from Poway, also has a line of made-to-order furnishings available at Bed Bath & Beyond, thanks to a contest held by Chicago-based Cloth & Company, a custom furniture company that launched in 2016.
The Emerging Designer competition was held last spring with the winner declared at Dwell On Design, an annual interior design show and conference held in Los Angeles at the end of June.
“It was a shot-in-the-dark kind of thing,” said Bencivengo, who entered the competition two weeks before the deadline in May after she learned about it through an email from a colleague. The contest, which was announced nationally, was open to students and recent graduates. It drew more than 100 entries, some international.
Each participant was asked to submit two to three textile designs, which could be created digitally or by hand. The field was then narrowed down to five finalists. A design from each finalist was used to create a chair. The five chairs were then judged at Dwell on Design by a panel of six judges.
“I was really looking for the opportunity to work with somebody who is really talented who is unknown right now,” said Meganne Wecker, president of her family’s company, Skyline Furniture. She and partner Christiane Lemieux, founder of DwellStudio, established Cloth & Company based on the fast fashion trend.
“The millennial is who everyone is trying to capture,” she said. “They’re coming out of school, and they’re furnishing their first apartment. And they’re much more apt to buy online and much more willing to take risks and put patterned chairs in their house that express their style. They are also very in tune to social media and the stories that are happening behind how the products are being created. So for us, it’s really interesting to go after someone who really does have a story and is just very talented.”
Bencivengo wanted the designs to reflect her view on what is timeless and took her inspiration from her surroundings. “I didn’t want to fall into a trend,” she said.
One pattern was inspired by the geometric shapes of architecture, the second, which has a series of semicircles, by fashion, and the third by everyday objects depicted through the ebb and flow of lines.
“I’ve always loved painting since I was a child,” said Bencivengo, who graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in interior design. She has been working for Delawie since February 2016.
“The way I feel about design is that it should be timeless, and it should have function. It should be something you love and aesthetically pleasing,” she said.
The patterns were hand-drawn on paper using gouache, a paint with the consistency of watercolor but the opaqueness of acrylic. The drawings were then scanned for submission. The “fashion” design with black-and-white semicircles was used to create the chair for judging.
“What struck me was that it really fit well for textile designs for furniture in terms of the scale of her patterns, the livability of it,” said Wecker, who was also one of the judges. “When you’re looking at furniture, you have to think that this is a larger investment, and you have to live with it for a long time. Her designs were different, yet livable.”
The classic lines of her patterns lean toward midcentury modern, which, Wecker said, “is very hot in our market right now for furniture.”
Bencivengo then collaborated with Cloth & Company to develop the 24 items for her line that includes chairs, headboards, storage benches, ottomans, pillows and curtains. The items, which range in price from $100 for a pillow to $405 for a chair, are available online through next summer.
A new printing process allows Cloth & Company to create textiles in small batches. With a high-tech digital printer, Wecker said, “we started to realize the opportunities it could afford us. We could print anything, and all we would have to print is a yard. The digital printer really opened us up to doing these different types of collaborations.” (The company is also working with lifestyle blogger and designer Joy Cho, designing furniture for Target.)
“I think everyone is really happy with the outcome,” Wecker said of the contest, which the company is considering again for next year. “I would love to see this continue, because there is just so much talent out there,” she said.
“It’s been really fun having a furniture line,” said Bencivengo, who will receive a percentage of the sales at the end of the first quarter, which will be at the end of the month.
“People say success is sometimes getting lucky,” Bencivengo said. “I think I got lucky.”
Schimitschek is a San Diego freelance writer.