Chairity 2020: Getting to Blue

In years past Chairity, the annual design event hosted by the San Francisco contract furniture dealer, Two, and welcomed by the design community as a kick-off to Fall and Winter festivities, was always a hands-on affair. Participating designers would select an old chair from Two’s scavenged collection, take it apart, push it through a design process and put it back together as reborn furniture or a work of art. The result would then be auctioned off to benefit local charities.

This year none of that could happen—at least not in the way it had before. Two’s 2020 version of Chairity was a radical re-think in procedural terms. Instead of starting with a chair, designers partnered with a manufacturer to design and make the prototype of a new product. “The actual prompt was kind of, ‘Make anything you want,’” said Kokeith Perry, one of the designers on O+A’s team. With Verda Alexander, Sharon Sclarr, Kaylen Parker and Edan Maoz he joined the manufacturers at Ohio Design to come up with something that spoke to Chairity’s longstanding mission of using design to give back to the community.

“We met with mural boards and Zoom calls and Google Meets—all that,” Kokeith said. “2020 design. Everyone had ideas, and we patchworked a few of them around this idea of adaptable work-from-home furniture.” The original concept came from Kaylen, a kind of “ladder/desk” that allowed the user to move a tabletop to whatever height he or she preferred. When someone suggested making it kid’s furniture, the team knew they had hit on something specific to the times. “We thought, oh that would be really awesome to do something for a kid who now has to do class from home indefinitely and did not have a desk set up before.”

Photos courtesy of Ohio Design.

Ohio Design sweetened the deal by proposing to build the desk from what it calls “drop”—the scrap wood and metal that results from its normal manufacturing process. So a socially useful, pandemic-sensitive, sustainably-manufactured aid to education—it doesn’t get more relevant than that.

Which is not to say everything fell into place easily. Because one of the benefiting charities was Project Color Corps, O+A’s team wanted to use the Love Good Color system devised by that organization’s founder Laura Guido-Clark. But Zoom proved an awkward vehicle for picking subtle gradations of color. “Sharon had to go into the office to get our color book,” Kokeith said. “She was holding up chips, and we were like, ‘That might be blue.’ She took a picture on her phone and sent it and we were looking on Zoom and email to cross-reference what the color actually was. She was saying, ‘It’s not sea foam, it’s more like turquoise but take out some of the green’ or ‘It’s not quite oxblood, but it’s more than maroon.’ She was saying colors that I’d never even heard of.”

O+A’s team finally got to see what blue they selected when members met at Ohio’s workshop in the Mission to get their first look at the finished product. “Very open air,” Kokeith said of that socially-distanced meeting. “Lots of space. We put on our masks. They left the garage doors open. Our piece was literally right next to the doors. It worked out great.” And the color? “Oh it was blue blue. Like really blue. Which is what we were going for.”

One thing to be learned from the longest disruption of business-as-usual since World War II is that human ingenuity finds a way to carry on.  As O+A’s Chairity 2020 experience demonstrated, when a project has purpose and a team that persists, nothing, not a global pandemic, not even a murky wifi connection, can prevent it from arriving at true blue.