The "innovation and entrepreneurship" space will debut this market with This Is Not a Chair, a show of furniture not usually associated with the North Carolina city
October 5, 2018
Though there's no shortage of great design every season at High Point market, it's not exactly a destination associated with small-scale, independent design production. This year, though, the design world has been abuzz with talk of a new show bringing independent makers and designers to the furniture hub of the country. "This Is Not a Chair," debuting October 12 , on the eve of High Point Market, will showcase 40 pieces of furniture by the likes of Asa Pingree, Fort Standard, and Chen Chen and Kai Williams, all popular designers on the New York scene whose names are less familiar among the North Carolina set, where focus has traditionally been on big brands and collaborations with established design stars.
The show, which was curated by New York-based design consultancy Standard Issue,marks the semiofficial launch of Plant Seven, a new creative space in High Point whose aim is to foster young talent and small-batch production in a city where the economy is centered on a few weeks of the calendar year. "There’s a lot of frustration around here that twice a year it’s like New York City and the other 50 weeks there's nothing," says Tim Branscome, Plant Seven's founder and CEO. "That leads to a lot of young flight."
So a few years ago, Branscome, a veteran of International Market Centers (owner of many of High Point's showrooms) and World Market Center (host of the Las Vegas furniture market), set out to find a solution. Two years ago, he partnered with Cisco Brothers to organize the Mill Collective, a show of smaller companies in the company's newly renovated mill headquarters. The success of that venture, coupled with the difficulty of High Point's biannual economic surge and prevalence of young flight, led Branscome to explore ways in which he could extend the collaborative spirit of the Mill Collective year round.
"We realized that there are all these companies out there that need to collaborate and they don’t know how," he explains. "They can make a great finish on a beautiful chair, but they have no place where they can connect, can come together. They’re going from project to project and they don’t have time to develop their business. So taking all this into account, we realized there was a need for a sort of year-round space where people could come during the off season, so we could support all these activities happening between market."
Fortuitously, at the same time, High Point's Chamber of Commerce was looking for ways to address the flagging economy in the nonmarket weeks of the year, and offered a $1.5 million matching fund grant to Branscome's team. They raised the money, but $3 million is small change when looking at real estate. Enter local philanthropist David Congdon, who purchased the onetime Adams hosiery mill (a property adjacent to the city's planned minor league baseball stadium) and leased it to Branscome for $1 per year, providing ample space for what Branscome refers to as an "innovation and entrepreneurship center."
In phases rolling out over the next year, Plant Seven will eventually comprise coworking and event spaces, a photography studio, a 3D printing lab ("it will operate like Kinkos," explains Branscome), a materials library, podcast rooms, a restaurant and café, and lodging. "You can design your product, make your product, photograph your project, show your project, and then learn about design," all in one place, Branscome quips. Standard Issue will be responsible for overall creative direction of the space, with Raleigh architect Louis Cherry overseeing the renovation.
Foundational to the concept is accessibility. Though pricing is still being finalized for the coworking spaces, Branscome estimates they'll have rates starting at about $150 per month. The materials library will be part of the Sandow-owned Material ConneXion, meaning members will get global access to all Material ConneXion libraries worldwide. "The point is to get these young people in, not to make a lot of money," says Branscome.
Those people, as Branscome envisions it, are High Point locals as well as young designers across the country. He cites one Brooklyn-based creative as an example of a prime candidate. "There's this very talented young designer who got a great gig doing some work for Prada," he explains. "All the sudden they ask him to make 700 boxes. He had no idea what to do! So we want him to know he can hop on a plane, come to North Carolina, and find people here that can make his boxes. He doesn’t have to go to China—we're an hour away. This small-batch stuff really should be done here. We shouldn’t have to go to Asia."
In that way, Plant Seven becomes a sort of regenerative ecosystem, feeding into the North Carolina economy. "People tend to think the furniture industry went off to Asia, but if you think of the ecosystem around the industry—marketing, design, production, logistics, IT—there’s an enormous infrastructure here that is alive and well, it’s just not branded and it doesn’t raise its flag during market," Branscome says.
Beyond economic impact, the hope is that Plant Seven encourages a less tangible kind of regeneration—a confidence in and excitement about production. "We’re trying to encourage people to get excited about the furniture industry, to show young people that it’s not your grandfather’s business," Branscome says. "There are so many young people out there who are serious about the trade and they need a place to create, and there are designers who are eager to buy new products year-round." All they need, it would seem, is to connect, and Plant Seven hopes to be that nexus point.