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Designer Talks: Dana D'Amico

Dana D'Amico, the New York-based tabletop designer, is a prolific creator of collections for a number of notable home and fashion brands around the world. Her newest collection, Boyd, was just launched with Crate & Barrel. In addition to her talents as an industrial designer, she is a consultant, educator - and frequent flyer - who took time from her busy schedule to let us quiz her about her work

Do you have a greatest career moment? If so, what was it?

The 'greatest' is hopefully still to come but a memorable and eye-opening moment was my first factory trip overseas. As an industrial design student I was always designing in 3D, mostly solving problems with my hands with minimal drawings. Entering the workforce, I soon came to realize that I would spend more time drawing and less time producing which was disappointing. Visiting factories offered a reconnection to the makers, materials and processes that I love.

What was your most challenging career moment?

I consider myself a collaborator, as I love the exchange of creative energy between people. My biggest challenges have been working in environments that discouraged this, replacing positive energy with toxicity.

What is the basis of your design strategy?

On the most basic level, solving the problem with ease and beauty. Using the word ease not to downplay hard work but to appear effortless and natural.

What do you consider to be your design expertise?

I consider myself a shape designer first. I love to discover form as it is an intuitive process. I also love working with texture and often apply this to my shapes.

As a natural collaborator, my strengths are creative direction and team building. I love finding complementary talents and pairing them. It's very satisfying to give a designer the right project and get amazing results.

My rules are simple: solve the problem with beauty and ease. I have been exposed to many different approaches and I believe the best is to find what works for you and do that.

Where do you seek inspiration to kickstart your creative process?

My inspiration usually comes from nature or architecture. I absorb all I can while traveling, take a ton of photos and often refer to them for inspiration.

How do you overcome creative blocks?

I love to travel which always helps me shift my perspective. If I am local, I love to walk on the beach or over a bridge in NYC because fresh air always helps!

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How do you know when to stick it out and when to let go of an idea?

If I am struggling with an idea, I know I need to step away for a while, let it marinate, and return with fresh eyes. I will post it up on my board to keep it in the back of my mind while working on something else. If then it is not working, it's time to move on.

Is it difficult to strike a balance between your creativity and the objective for commercial success?

The creative side is less of the challenge as my ideas are fluid and frequent. The market often requires low prices while expecting high quality. It is the designers' challenge to find the balance and make it work.

How would you define your personal design aesthetic?

Clean, considered, elegant and modern.

Is there one design or collection that changed everything for you? What was it? And what do you think of it today?

While at RISD I took a class called production ceramics. This was my first experience using a mold for slip casting. It enlightened me to the power of multiples and the transformative opportunities of decoration, which is key in my career. Although the pieces I made were not amazing, the entire experience was a turning point which lead me to where I am.

Do you have any rules regarding design?

My rules are simple: solve the problem with beauty and ease. I have been exposed to many different approaches and I believe the best is to find what works for you and do that.

If you could do one thing as a designer what would it be?

I would love to have a piece in the permanent collection at MoMa. I am very lucky to teach at amazing art schools like RISD, Pratt and Parsons, which allows me to spread knowledge and exchange creative energy. As a teacher my goal is to take students to factories and I am thrilled that this is happening in the summer!

If you were not a designer, is there another career path that intrigues you?

My other passion in life is dance which I would have pursued as a career. I started when I was 3 years old and can't imagine life without it.

Is there one person who you admire or consider to be your greatest mentor or design inspiration?

It is hard to name just one. I have been lucky to know a few so far. My first was Mark Johnston, the tech at the RISD woodshop who always gave me the encouragement to try things with no fear and then to welcome 'happy accidents'. This support allowed me to work with ease and have open expectations.

George Gordon, my wood professor and now co-teacher, taught me to trust my instincts, and really let my hands go to work. I am honored to be at RISD alongside the people who helped me discover my talents.

During my recent residency at VA, I had the honor to work alongside Madalena Esteves, an amazingly talented, supportive and humble model maker.

The common thread between all of these people is their approachability, allowing the comfort and support to experiment with confidence and tune into intuition.

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What advice would you give to young designers who are just starting out in a commercial marketplace?

Work hard with respect and confidence and you will get ahead. Find a way to insert your voice into existing brands while observing their aesthetic. Remembering almost everything could be a little better, strive for that.

Is there something you would like to reveal about yourself that no one really knows?

I am a tabletop designer without a dining table! It sounds very sad but it's New York City living.

What is the favorite gift you ever received and what was the occasion?

I have to say my favorite gift is a gold ring that my mother had made for me. It is a replica of my grandmother's ring that my mother has worn all of my life. I always admired it and I received it for my 30th birthday and never take it off. All of the women in my family have this ring as well.

What do you use on your table?

Calvin Klein "Basso" which is a very clean, coupe silhouette. I designed it as a basic blank canvas for beautiful food and tabletop accessories. I have a large collection of table linens and glassware and use them according to my mood. "Basso" is named after my family, which I remember every time I see the backstamp.