“I love the scale of children’s furniture. I’m all about a mini chair.” And in the world of children’s design, there exists no greater authority than Lora Appleton. After earning her BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in acting and directing, the South Florida native launched a boutique hospitality design and branding agency, where she worked for several years. But once her son Willem came along in 2009, Appleton pivoted toward what she viewed as an untapped niche in the industry: designing smart furniture for children. She founded gallery and studio kinder MODERN in 2013, and has since amassed an unparalleled selection of contemporary children’s furniture mixed with vintage pieces—such blue-chip names as Chen Chen & Kai Williams, Pierre Paulin, and Cody Hoyt offer a taste of the talent that grace the shelves of kinder MODERN’s gallery in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood.
But kinder MODERN is far from Appleton’s sole occupation. Aside from travelling the world to source must-have children’s furnishings for her gallery, she also oversees KINDER, a bimonthly journal that examines child design of the past, present, and future. (Appleton is publisher and editor in chief). She also tirelessly champions women, having founded the Female Design Council—an action-oriented membership organization that offers professional support and mentorship to women in design—as a direct result of the uncertainties brought upon by the 2016 election.
And during this year’s NYCxDESIGN, Appleton is spearheading projects all around the city. Egg Collective enlisted her to co-curate “Designing Women II: Masters, Mavericks, and Mavens,” which showcases contemporary and vintage pieces by global female designers. And at kinder MODERN’s own gallery space, Appleton is exhibiting a series of kinetic brass objects designed and hand-crafted by American sculptor Rodger Stevens alongside a retrospective of furniture, ceramics, and objects by Lucas Maassen & Sons. And at ICFF, she will present a polychromatic all-ages furniture collection designed in collaboration with Mexa Design.
Below, Appleton divulges what triggered her interest in children’s design, her favorite pieces of mini-furniture, and what’s on the horizon for her business.
Interior Design: Where did you grow up, and how has it influenced your work?
Lora Appleton: I grew up in South Florida. It was not such a considered environment, but it had the beach, nature, and horticulture. Its tackiness made me aware of all the beautiful things beyond.
ID: Can you describe your first memory of design as a child?
LA: My grandmother’s home had a ton of mid-century pieces. Her bedroom was a 1970’s fantasy: Smoke mirror on all wall surfaces and a giant clear swirled resin headboard in the middle of the room with a sexy fur bedspread. It was so fabulous.
ID: What galvanized your interest in designing for children?
LA: Becoming a mom and wanting a beautiful home was the beginning. Since opening the gallery, I started noticing all the holes in design for children, and I wanted to fill those gaps with cool furniture for the entire family. I love the scale of children’s furniture. I’m all about a mini chair.
ID: What are your favorite historic and contemporary pieces of children’s furniture?
LA: This is tough—there’s so much to choose from! The Schaukelwagon by Hans Brockhage & Erwin Andra (1950) or maybe the Crosby Chair by Gaetano Pesce (1998) in colorful resin. As for contemporary, the Rogier Martens Trotter for Magis (2015). The Clay Child Chair by Maarten Baas (2006) is also pretty great.
ID: You also design children’s spaces within larger projects. What needs do you consider for these commissions?
LA: We think about age groups as well as interactivity. We’re finding the sweet spot between child & adult and how to serve multiple needs in one designated space. We also consider how children of different ages use space so we can serve those needs with the construction of new forms.
ID: What are some mistakes you’ve seen in spaces designed for children? How can designers avoid these?
LA: Sometimes designers get over-excited with pattern. They also simplify in a way that can read “babyish” or cheap, or they shrink down an adult space into smaller pieces for kids. Smart choices like strong and stable yet fun floors, wallpaper, or paint can really transform a room.
ID: You founded the Female Design Council in 2016. Can you tell me about the organization and its genesis? How can one get involved?
LA: Founding the FDC was a direct response to the election and feeling like I was not a “protester.” I wanted to reverse the difficulties of being a woman during an anti-woman presidency and create a positive expression. To get involved, check out an open meeting. More information about membership and events is on our website.
ID: Tell me about your experience co-curating “Designing Women II: Masters, Mavericks, and Mavens” with Egg Collective.
LA: What fun! I love Egg Collective and everything they stand for, and have felt so included through the process. It has turned out to be everything I’d hoped for and more.
ID: What are some highlights from the show?
LA: On the contemporary side, we have two super strong lighting designers: the new collection from Kristin Victoria Barron and the gorgeous neon and glass chandelier from Sabine Marcelis courtesy of Etage Projects. Vintage-wise, Leza McVey’s vases and the Gretta Grossman Sofa (1949) are quite spectacular.
ID: How else is kinder MODERN involved in NYCxDESIGN?
LA: We’re launching two shows during NYCxDESIGN at our gallery on May 11th with Lucas Maassen & Sons and Rodger Stevens. We also have designed a mini collection of outdoor children’s furniture for Mexa Design which will be at ICFF. A busy month!
ID: What are some new/upcoming collections?
LA: We’re thrilled to release Joost Van Bleiswijk’s Protopunk collection in the U.S., as well as our in-house studiokinder Lunar table and Eclipse chair, the first in a larger series of modular furniture for the growing child.
ID: What’s the curation process for your gallery?
LA: I find themes that are needed in my collection as well as conversation in design for children that pop up and move the curation in different directions. In 2018, we started bringing on full collections for the entire home, so the changes are very exciting.
ID: Tell me about Kinder Journal.
LA: I really wanted to create a publication featuring the past, present, and future of designing for children through the pedagogy and materiality conversations that I wanted to explore. It’s truly a labor of dedication!
ID: How do you manage it all as a mother in the city?
LA: You don’t, there is no ‘all’. You juggle and try to do your best as a mother, creative, and person. My great team supports my creative craziness and my boy is very much woven into the fabric of my work.
ID: What’s next for kinder MODERN?
LA: I want to push the idea of interactive living within real estate amenities spaces: how to think about future living and creating spaces that facilitate a sense of community as well as entertain.
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