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Bringing Power Back to the Collector: Daniella Ohad on Her New Course "Collecting Design: History. Collections. Highlights."
July 19, 2012  | 

This past spring the New York School of Interior Design (along with MODERN Magazine and Phillips de Pury + Company) launched a new program, “Collecting Design: History. Collections. Highlights.” The course is the brainchild of Daniella Ohad, Ph. D and it could not be timelier. No matter where one looks vintage is on everyone’s mind, lips, and in the stores; if not the real deal then vintage-inspired reproductions. How do you know if that lamp or sofa that you like is from the 1960’s or 1920’s and what did the styles of those periods look like? Well, here is your chance to educate yourself.

“Collecting Design”, a bi-weekly course where students have the option of attending a morning or evening session, dedicates each class to a new theme in the history of twentieth- century design (with one session on contemporary design). As Ohad, points out, this is the only program of its kind. In two hours you can become a specialist in Art Deco, American mid-century design, or the Wiener Werkstätte. Ohad, who has the best connections in the industry, has invited some of the top leaders in each field to come and share their knowledge about design and teach you to distinguish between what is great, good, mediocre, and just plain bad. This semester speakers include Derek Ostergard, Benoist F. Drut, Bob Aibel, and Mark Benda.

New Focus On’s Bella Neyman recently sat down to chat about the course with Ohad and find out exactly why it is worth our attention.

How did you come up with the concept for this “Collecting Design”?
There is a great interest in collecting modern design today, however I wanted to develop a course that went beyond collecting but focused on how design is perceived. I work with many architects and interior designers and I wanted to develop a course for them, so that they wouldn’t have to do all the research and reading on their own.

What are you hoping that will people learn from this course?
My main goal with “Collecting Design” is to give people confidence in their taste and in what they love. However the only way that they will have this confidence is to have understanding and knowledge that is what I am looking to provide them with. I also want to give people an opportunity to elevate their taste level, teach them how to look at design, appreciate it and also recognize how important it is to live with good design. Many people take this course not because they want to be collectors but to learn how to live with design. The students, as I am, are interested in the value of good design in cultural terms.

Since this is an ongoing course and registration has begun for the next semester, will the speakers change?
Absolutely. This is a conversation-based class so every semester we will have new speakers. I have students that come for both sessions (daytime and evening) because they are so inspired.

Why is there such an obsession with design these days?
Our culture is obsessed with great design for several reasons, really. First of all, we live in the age of technology and design has become an integral part of it, just look at what Steve Jobs did. Second of all, we live in an age of globalization and people want to define themselves and their taste through design. And lastly, we live in a culture obsessed with consumption, and everyone lives with design on some level.

What is the difference between collecting the decorative arts vs. fine arts?
It seems like there is a big difference between the two but that is not really true. People love living with beautiful things but you should collect design if you really want to live with it and not put it into storage, like many collectors of fine arts do. Most collectors of design live with what they buy, the chair the sit in or the bed they sleep in are design objects. With the fine arts, it is not unusual to see a collection in storage because they can’t put everything on the wall, they have more art than space.

In terms of collecting, which area of design do you think is going to be the next big thing?
There are areas that are still relatively undeveloped, like American Art Deco, second-tier French Art Deco, and American Post-Modernism, just to name a few.

Does the course discuss design as an investment?
No, we do not talk about design as an investment; this is what the Wall Street Journal does, and does successfully. Most people do not collect design as an investment either, but because they love design and want to live with great objects. The difference between buying collectible vs. commercial mass-produced is that with the former you can redeem the value later. We discuss design as something that you buy because you love it.

Which type of design market player (auction house expert, interior designer, collector, advisor, tastemaker) do you think is the most influential today?
The interior designer is definitely the most influential, I do not think that it should be this way but it is. They often make decisions for their clients and came to make many significant purchases. This is what my program is trying to change. I am trying to bring power to the collector.

How did you get started in design- where does your interest in the subject matter come from?
My background is in art history, in particular architecture therefore it was a smooth transition into design for me. In the late 1980’s or early 1990’s when I started to study decorative arts, design did not have a significant place in our culture, and few people spoke about design and so I decided to focus my studies on it. I believe in great design. I live with it although I do not consider myself a collector. I also have raised my kids with great design and have always taught them to the power of great design to transform life experience and daily life living. Great design is a part of my lifestyle.

What role do Phillips de Pury and MODERN Magazine play in this course?
In Phillips, they are interested in educating collectors in design. The design sales are much more than just sales. Their sales are so much more than just sales. They are curated and presented in a beautiful setting and in elegant catalogs. All of these contribute to the broad experience of design. They are sponsoring the program and their specialists host the class in a tour behind the scenes of the design sale. MODERN Magazine focuses on the exact material covered in the course, so to them it was natural to enter into an education program and they are very engaged with it. It wouldn’t have happened without MODERN.

For more information on the course and to register visit: