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Random Hotels and Haunts Are on Eric Hildebrandt’s Radar

Five Questions For is GRAY’s candid Q&A session with design industry luminaries that delves into all things personal, professional, and occasionally humorous.

The first round of this year’s HOT NEW NEXT competition takes place Monday, April 8, at the Design Within Reach showroom in Portland’s Pearl District. Leading up to the big night, we’re checking in with each of our judges to learn more about their work, background, and what makes them tick. This week, we focus on Eric Hildebrandt, regional vice president at Design Within Reach, who recently launched an Instagram account that seeks moments of accidental design genius from unexpected places.

RSVP to the Portland round of this year’s HOT NEW NEXT here, and join us at our Meet Me in the Bathroom after party at The Eleanor, sponsored by Chown Hardware, following the live event.


With your help, the Danish brand HAY launched its first store in Portland last November. What does its opening says about Danish design in this region?

HAY is easily the most exciting furnishings brand to launch in the US in many years. There’s not a single product in a HAY store that does not bring a smile to your face. Danish design is rightfully held in the highest global esteem, but the qualities of those designs are typically quiet: muted colors, minimally treated materials, and light woods. HAY is bringing a fresh perspective to this tradition. It is fun, energetic, bright, colorful, and accessible to everyone.

What makes the Pacific Northwest an attractive place for a brand to set up shop?

Right now, there is an American renaissance of localized cultures. One can find truly amazing food, art, publications, culture, and design in big and small cities. It used to be you went to New York if you were an artist; you went to Nashville to sing country music; you went to Detroit to make things. Now, multifaceted cultural movements are springing up all over— even the remote plot of desert that is Joshua Tree is now a small, but thriving, community of artists, thinkers, and doers. This type of organic cultural localism was deeply ingrained in the Pacific Northwest’s soul for decades before it hit the rest of the country. Don’t give the region a trend. Just let us be so we can create something real and lasting.

You previously worked as a graphic designer. How has that experience influenced your work today?

The greatest practitioners in any field—be it graphic design or business—are skilled at creating a deeply informed and personal language that reflects their vision of organization. For designers, they look at the materials they have and organize them in a way that communicates their ideas about what visual language should be, and successfully convince others to immediately grasp what is being communicated. Same goes for business. The business person believes she has something that others will value: How can she successfully convince a group of people who could care less if her product existed? I’m not remotely among the greatest in either field, but do enjoy my pursuit of that greatness. Being a graphic designer first makes it easier for me to value the art above the commerce.

Using only three words, what does good design mean to you?

Reason for living.

What should we expect to see from your recently launched Instagram account, @the_spaceinvaders?

Most Instagram interior design accounts are drool-worthy, perfectly composed photographs of gorgeous spaces designed for rich people. I love those things—I want to be a rich person with a flawless space, too! Sometimes I photograph and post those spaces, because great design remains great no matter who it was intended for. But I also go to a lot of random hotels, questionable bars, and out-of-the-way haunts. These places can at times offer bits of accidental genius, questionable interior design choices, and random moments that catch my eye. One example from my account: A photo of an upholstered lounge chair with a cocktail table in a paper towel-strewn restaurant bathroom somewhere in California. Does one get tired after relieving one’s self and have an urge to rest comfortably for a moment before rejoining friends? Is it for a long-ago retired bathroom attendant so he can sip some tea and read a book while you take care of your business? These moments are everywhere. Until Architectural Digest reports these important trends, I will be the canary in the coal mine.

What’s the most iconic design piece you own?

The Saarinen dining table [by Eero Saarinen for Knoll] is a flawless design. When Knoll debuted it in an unusual gray marble a few years back, I jumped at the chance to buy one. The coloring and veining looks like a system of star-filled galaxies. Despite its beauty, there is nothing precious about this piece. It’s the most sturdy and solid engineering you will find in a table, in spite of the seemingly delicate pedestal base. Whether you are hosting a beautiful dinner or a messy clay sculpting session, this table will make everything look and feel better.


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