Ellen’s Design Challenge: Meet Vivian

updated Jul 17, 2020
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(Image credit: Courtesy Vivian Beer)

Name: Vivian Beer
City: Manchester, NH

Style: Sexy industrial.

(Image credit: Courtesy Vivian Beer)

Carpenter paired with: Matt Blashaw

When did you realize you had potential in furniture design?

I really fell in love with furniture design in graduate school. I had studied as a sculptor at Maine College of Art and worked in architectural iron before studying in the Metals program at Cranbrook Academy of Art. My research was divided between contemporary design and decorative arts history.

It is really hard not to fall in love with design on that campus. Some of the true greats of furniture design (and especially chair design); Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, Niels Diffrient… all spent time there, and their works are scattered around the campus. It’s like living inside of a history book. What shocks and motivates me is that these are the works and designers that we still think of as the most successful American Furniture Design. It’s time for our generation to change that.

There is also a tradition there of an annual cross disciplinary chair show. One of the Architecture grads asked me to do it, so I made a chair and really haven’t stopped making them since!

(Image credit: Courtesy Vivian Beer)

What are your design strengths?

My strength is weaving feeling and a story into my forms. Each piece has a connection to history, material, psychology, and function.

Inspired by landscape, engineering, industry and fashion, I make empathetic designs, pieces that make you feel. Both seductive and reserved, my pieces have a taste of history and teeth into the present.

(Image credit: Courtesy Vivian Beer)

What are your design weaknesses?

I have worked for the past ten years mainly alone, in the classic model of a sculptor’s studio, so the loss of control within collaboration and outsourcing had always been intimidating. I’ve been feeling the need to change that, creating more group projects and getting involved with public art over the past two years.

I’m sure this also has something to do with getting married a few years ago, that most fantastically collaborative experience had opened me up in ways that I don’t think any other experience could, but it remains a challenge in my studio life.

I’m hoping that my experience working with Matt Blashaw and the EDC can help me grow in this way within my creative process!

(Image credit: Courtesy Vivian Beer)

How did you end up auditioning for Ellen’s Design Challenge?

I was contacted by the casting company. Many emails, interviews and an important homework assignment later I was lucky enough to move into the competition.

(Image credit: Courtesy Vivian Beer)

What challenge from last season would you have loved to compete in? Which one would you pass on?

I would have enjoyed matching the table to chair design. Chairs are the most iconic piece a furniture designer can make and all of the chairs on that wall were icons! To react not only to the style and architecture of one of these greats, but also match the functionality of the sit and use would be a thrill!

I don’t think I would have enjoyed the crate expectations episode. There are already so many limitations within a challenge, to limit the material so drastically as well… not fun.

On a scale of 1 to 5 sweater vests, how amazing is Ellen in person?

Ellen always appeared at the shop when we were most stressed! It was always a relief in this intense, deadline infused environment to laugh and relax. It’s important to remember that we make furniture because we love it — because we enjoy it. A little laughter is the best way to remember that you can be very serious about what you do while having fun doing it. On the other hand, when she would ask you a question, it was serious, sensitive and insightful. It is an incredibly nurturing way to treat people.

Thanks, Vivian! Watch her compete on Ellen’s Design Challenge, Mondays at 9|8c on HGTV!