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Publication Date: 2012-12-06

Behind the Design

Behind the Design: Dennis Miller and Associates

Dennis Miller started out as an architect, earning an undergraduate degree in architecture from Cornell University and working at notable firms, including I.M. PEI. However, despite his training and impressive background, he could not resist the pull towards the world of design and furniture making. This departure led him to establish his design gallery, Dennis Miller Associates, and create his eponymous furniture, lighting and carpeting lines. Dering Hall recently sat down with Miller to learn more about his journey from architecture to interior design; his sources of inspiration and influence; and how he works with the designers and the products that come into his gallery.

Q. Can you tell us about your education, experience and background?
A. I have always been interested in design and building. I was always drawing whenever possible during my early school years, which confirmed my passion for architecture. I enrolled in an undergraduate program for a professional degree and left University with a bachelor’s in architecture and a master’s of arts. After graduating, I worked for an architecture firm in Geneva, Switzerland, and was fortunate enough to travel extensively through Europe. Although surrounded by historical architecture and art, I found myself gravitating towards to contemporary European industrial and domestic design.

Q. What made you want to own a design gallery?

A. Upon returning to New York, I worked for two notable architectural firms, I.M. Pei & Partners – known today as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners – followed by Davis Brody Bond + Spacesmith Architects. On my own, I also explored architectural design with an emphasis on interior design, both contract and residential, and in that process my business plans morphed from architecture to interior design. I was drawn towards the work of young creative craft artisans, and this quickly became the basis for a permanent gallery/showroom.

Q. Can you tell us about the designers that you are currently representing?

A. Dennis Miller Associates currently represents both independent designers and larger manufacturing firms that exemplify the highest standards of quality and design. The designers come from a wide range of backgrounds, including woodworking, industrial design, fine arts, sculpture, fashion and architecture. In our showroom, we represent several designers who are also on Dering Hall, including Jiun Ho, Matthew Fairbank and Alpha Workshops.

Q. How do you decide which designers you choose to represent in your showroom?

A. In the process of selecting new designers, it is essential to us that they have a passion for what they create. In many respects, we interview their personality as much as their work. A clear and non-wavering sense of ethics is also necessary, both in their work and in how they run their business. New partnerships can be challenging, thus it’s important to us to find artisans whose work practices will complement ours.

Q. How does your background as an architect influence you?

I find that I respond to artists’ creations in a manner that reflects my training. Naturally, the artistry is paramount, but a high quality of materials, scale, and detailing is imperative. I also check on the value in the marketplace. Will it sell at the price the artist and/or the furniture suggests? Will our clientele really respond to the design aesthetic? Is it unique enough to hold its own in the market? Is consistency important and can the manufacturer provide that? Artists are creators; they have to be moved gently to the real world sometimes. I enjoy that challenge.

Q. Each designer that you represent has a lot of great products. How do you go about curating their pieces to display in your showroom?

A. When looking at a maker’s body of work, it is a collaborative effort in determining what will go on display. Often the artist will insist on a particular piece, however, the size of the showroom, the context among other pieces, and the needs of our clients need to be taken into consideration and can limit what will be on display.

Q. How would you best describe your personal design style?

A. I am definitely a child of the mid-century. I grew up with Danish design, like Knoll and Herman Miller furniture, in a house designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. In college I idolized pioneers of modern architecture, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, as well as the sweeping, arching structural curves of the machine-like rationalism of Eero Saarinen. And they all created furniture! I still collect Danish, American mid-century pieces.

Q. How has your design style been influenced by the designers you have worked with over the years?

A. Our work has evolved to be more versatile in a variety of design periods over the years, but it has more or less remained contemporary with less exaggeration in style. Earlier pieces of work tended to be more shocking with extreme materials and forms, which have calmed down a bit to reflect a more sober zeitgeist of the early twenty-first century.

Q. Where would you like to see Dennis Miller Associates in five years?

A. We see that the consumer is leading the designer in so many cases; the collaboration between designer and end-user is much more informed. Our goal is to clarify and simplify the selection process by making information clearer to all concerned. We believe in the creativity and expertise of the design professional and want to help them guide their clients in sharing excitement and appreciation of designs.


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