Its Monday morning, and you know what that means... yep, another flight. This time down to North Carolina to spend a few days with Bernhardt design. My knowledge of Bernhardt was limited to some of the more Iconic pieces, like the Orbit by Ross Lovegrove, but I was anxious to get to know the seemingly illusive (from their website) company a bit more.
This part of North Carolina (Lenoir) has a long history of manufacturing, and up until recently was somewhere where a large percentage of the furniture produced in the United States came from. As a company, Berhardt started over 100 year ago as a logging company (the countryside here really is beautiful), and eventually moved into manufacturing furniture, making a more traditional style of home furnishings for over 50 years. Then, in the late 80s, early 90's the company moved away from the ornamented peices, into a more modern aesthetic, dabbling in Memphis styled post-modern pieces. In the mid-90's, current creative director Jerry Heling joined Bernhardt, and was one of the key players in taking "Berhardt design" as a contract part of the company (I'll explain this crazy confusing situation in a bit) and started work on creating more modernist pieces which would fit into the business world. With this, the B2B business modernized and became more of what Bernhardt might be more known for in the design community today.
Enough with the history lesson—next was a meet with product development. Considering the time spend with companies like Vitra and Herman Miller, it was interesting to meet with a company which also works with designers, but seems to work in a slightly different manner. At Bernhardt, it seems more of the design of the product itself is done in house. It seemed as if the designers Bernhardt works with provide more inspiration for the project rather than full product ideation and conception, and play a more hands off approach over all. As the creative director, Jerry Heling finds the designers to work with on projects, and has the initial relationships with the designers who Bernhardt works with. Interestingly, these interactions with a designer come about through seridipity or spontaneity. Bernhardt prides itself on working with less established designers and getting out into the world to find the undiscovered talent they partner with. The products they produce range from those which are statement pieces and high in cost (which they don't expect to sell lots of), to more safe, high-volume pieces, which can include cased goods also.
The small product development team of 5 designers is split between three divisions (residential, contract and hospitality), with only 2 or 3 working on contract designs with ownership of multiple projects out of the 20-40 products released per year. The product development team includes a small highly-skilled team from a few backgrounds (woodworking, upholstery, etc) working on prototypes, which allows them to develop both an aesthetically pleasing product, but also work through production and manufacturing considerations very quickly and efficiently. Like with most interiors companies, their busy time is in the Spring before ICFF and Neocon—where products are revealed at ICFF to create buzz and maybe presages before Neocon, but releases do run on seasonal basis also.