Interior designers could be considered unsung heroes of the art world, as their canvas typically includes homes and other private locations, and after they complete their work, they usually don’t get a chance to keep viewing their creations. A new exhibit at the Akron Art Museum, “Living With Art,” opens this Thursday and celebrates interior design, and will pair art with hand-crafted customized local furniture.
“Often we do a design and it goes into someone’s home and we don’t really see it after that,” says Karen Starr, who owns Akron’s Hazel Tree Interiors with her husband Jon Haidet. Starr, guest curator and designer for “Living With Art,” will transform the gallery into a living space, complete with seating, tables, lighting and even miniature replicas so visitors can do their own design work. The décor will, of course, be artwork from the museum’s collection, and patrons are encouraged to pull up a chair, get comfortable and look at art as part of an entire living space.
“At Hazel Tree Interiors we have this mix all the time; we have art on the walls and furniture down below,” Starr says. “I call it functional art.”
Joining Starr will be two established local furniture makers. John Strauss is a trained sculptor, but he grew up in the furniture industry. “Even though I started out as an artist, the furniture world brought me back in genetically to its orbit,” says Strauss, who trained in New York City and now operates a showroom in Canton.
Even though Strauss’ company, John Strauss Furniture Design, has had to expand his business beyond building the furniture himself, he says the items are still crafted by hand. The Ohio Amish workers who help build his furniture stay true to tradition, with water wheels underneath the factory, air-powered equipment and electricity that’s generated in-house.
Kevin Busta, from Kevin Busta Industrial Furnishings, found his calling while assisting in Cleveland’s antique district welding antiques. A connection he made there then sent him New York City, where he was able to fully realize his talents with welding and art to make custom furniture, like tables and light posts. Now Busta, who will be making the lighting fixtures for this exhibit, says Cleveland is an ideal location for working with industrial metals.
“The two of them together just really blended nicely with the aesthetic I wanted to bring in the spaces,” says Starr. “I approached this project as I would any other living space. I took measurements of the room and noted the ceiling height and where we could hang things and not hang things – if there was enough walk room space in the gallery.”
An opening reception will take place at the Akron Art Museum, One South High St., Feb. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. For museum hours, visit akronartmuseum.org.