Cooper-Hewitt Decks Out Design Awards in Recycled Paper

The Cooper-Hewitt used recycled paper to create surprisingly sophisticated (and sustainable) decor at this year's National Design Awards.

David Stark used 6,000 pounds of recycled paper to create topiary centerpieces, oversize chandeliers, and a podium backdrop.

Photo: Alison Whittington for BizBash

At first glance, last night's eighth annual National Design Awards at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum appeared to be your typical fancy affair, with festive chandeliers, elegant centerpieces, and a striking podium. But a closer look revealed that the evening’s decor had a less-than-glamorous origin: the recycling bin. Caroline Baumann, the museum’s deputy director, and Mei Mah, deputy director of education, worked with David Stark Design and Production to give this year’s gala an eco-friendly bent.

For a new take on what has become an increasingly common theme, Stark had museum employees (and his own staff) collect discarded paper over the past six months, ultimately amassing 6,000 pounds of the stuff. Stark's team shredded the paper and used the papier-mâché-like strands to create sculptural decorations for the dinner and award ceremony, which was held in a tent inside the museum’s Arthur Ross terrace and garden. “Our staff was extremely supportive and excited about the idea,” Baumann says. “While we normally recycle our paper, it was great to know that something that would normally be considered waste would be repurposed to create our beautiful gala decor.”

Inspired by the paper's neutral palette, Stark stuck to a clean black-and-white color scheme, with a few splashes of red here and there (perhaps a nod to the evening's sponsor, Target). His team fashioned the strips of paper into large, snowball-like chandeliers as well as a delightfully textural backdrop for the podium. In an effort to keep the event as green as possible, staffers replaced floral centerpieces with topiary table-toppers that ranged from low faux bouquets to twisting spirals.

About 500 guests, including presenters Paul Simon and Jonathan Adler, dined on baby beet and fig salad, rosemary-roasted rack of lamb, and meringue and coconut-crusted passion fruit gelato from Restaurant Associates. Award winners included graphic designer Chip Kidd, fashion designer Rick Owens, Jonathan Ive of Apple, and architect Antoine Predock, who received the lifetime achievement award. For the second year in a row, Isaac Mizrahi presented the People's Design Award, which was given to footwear company Toms Shoes.

Following dinner, about 300 guests attended the after-party, held on the ground floor of Target National Design Education Center. The space was given a spare, loungelike look by Alan Harris from MTV's on-air promotions department and four teenage participants in Design Directions, the museum’s free design education program for New York City high school students. The team covered the walls with gray Reemay fabric and arranged a few simple vignettes of donated furniture from West Elm. Chip Kidd served as DJ, playing ’80s new-wave favorites throughout the night.

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