The reception desk that doubles as a check-in or impromptu meeting space at the new IIDA Chicago Headquarters. Photograph by Mike Johnson II, AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C

During Neocon 2017, arguably one the of busiest periods for the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), the Mid-Atlantic Chapter had the fortunate opportunity to interview Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, regarding the new IIDA 15,300 SQF Chicago Headquarters.

As the Executive Vice President and CEO of IIDA, Cheryl Durst has dedicated more than 20 years to the interior design industry and helped cultivate IIDA to the association we regard today. Before her career in the interior design world, Cheryl dreamt of following a different career path. “I had it in my head that I wanted to curate museums.  I wanted to major in Art History and my parents said no, you’ll never make a dime.” says Cheryl.

After graduating from Boston University with a major in Print Journalism and Economics she worked her way into the interior design world and is now recognized as a major advocate for the interior design profession and continuously challenges the status quo regarding design, innovation and visionary strategy. She has been recognized for many achievements throughout her career but relocating the IIDA Chicago Headquarters into the classic Meis van der Rohe Jeweler’s Building at 35 East Wacker Drive, might be one of her greatest accomplishments yet.

Todd Heiser, AIA, IIDA and Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP at the new IIDA Chicago Headquarters. Photograph by Megan Bearder Photography

Mike Johnson II (MJII): What was the main reason for IIDA moving outside of the Merchandise Mart?

Cheryl Durst (CD): IIDA was formed from three associations and there’s always been an incarnation of some form within the Merchandise Mart and that goes back to the 60s. That’s a long time to be anchored in one spot and we became very closely associated with the Merchandise Mart.

It was simply a real estate and economic decision for us as a not for profit entity. Our lease terminated and we had a right to renew and the right to terminate mutually.  We knew the threshold that we were willing to pay and we could’ve moved elsewhere in the Mart, but we would’ve downsized. Our objective has always been to have space to maximize the work that the Association does, but then to also have a revenue-generating space. Half of our new space is what we call “Idea Studio” which is rentable for groups, organizations and manufacturers to have training courses and sales meeting. It’s money that comes into the Association to support our activity, so that was really important to us. We can’t, as an organization, like any membership organization, be dues-dependent. You must have several different kinds of silos of revenue coming into the association.

MJII: Interesting. Personally, what’s your favorite reason for moving here?

CD: When someone says me, “Where do you work?”. If you work in the Mart, it is a building unto itself, 12,000 people work there, it has its own CTA line, and you’re in a bit of a cocoon. Moving out of the Mart we’re now able to say, “I work in Chicago” and it was really important as an international organization for us to have this attachment to a world-class city that is known for design and architecture. With all the windows we now have, we’re a part of the city. We see the river and we’ve got this wonderful streetscape and then nothing says Chicago like Michigan Avenue.

MJII: Speaking of that, nothing says Chicago like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Did that play a role in selecting this building?

CD: Absolutely. Having a historically significant architectural building was important for an association comprised of designers and architects.  Especially since this was one of the last buildings that Mies designed. It’s part of the architectural boat tour and there are several firms in this area. The building owner is currently returning this building back to honor his original intent. That’s one of the reasons we exposed the waffle slab. Nothing says Mies like that exposed waffle slab.

MJII: Was that a part of the intent? Did Mies’ design have an impact on the space?

CD: Totally! We wanted to honor Mies and Chicago; the city of skyscrapers. It’s also something that resonates with our community. There’s no way we could pull apart design from IIDA and we wanted to send that message in our physical identity as well.

Black glass office and conference room fronts along the main corridor of the new IIDA Chicago Headquarters. Photograph by Mike Johnson II, AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C

MJII: Now that NeoCon has ended, what have you seen that has been trending?

CD: I haven’t been able to go to Neocon and it has been really weird for me. I’ve been focused on our open house, so I haven’t seen a lot, but have heard what other people have been talking about.  I think what we’re doing here is indicative of what I’ve been hearing. It’s this layering of elements, textures, materials and that was the design intent for this space.

I think that has been part of the issue with the work place, is that it looked sterile or clinical. Now, there’s so much flexibility and choice.  For example, my office, I think of this as my homeroom. I start here in the morning, I have a few meetings like this here and I might make a few phone calls, but I spend most of my day at that standing height table outside my office.

It’s so interesting to watch how people move throughout our new space.  IIDA staff could be on a conference call, a 2 or 3-person meeting or a team meeting and that’s happening all over the office. It’s been so gratifying for me to see how no one is anchored to their desk. It’s echoing what I’ve been hearing that people are seeing in the Merchandise Mart, bringing humanity back into the workplace while also having a sense of craft so that you know a human being touched this and made this happen.

MJII: For instance, the layering of rugs.

CD: Yes, the comfort of the residential style incorporated into a commercial space helps clients to attract, retain, engage, and invigorate the workplace, particularly to a younger generation who view work very differently. Design has become such an incredible tool in doing that, including things like WELL and well-being. I think we’re also realizing that comfort has everything to do with well-being and you want people to be comfortable in the workplace.

That’s one of the things you’ll see walking around here; it’s very carefully edited. I think that the role of designers as editors of a space and curators is a growing need. That’s one of the things we wanted to do with this space, is recognize designers are collectors. Not everyone is a minimalist and even if you are a minimalist, you’re going to have at least three things you really love that you want to have around you. We wanted to acknowledge that aspect because this isn’t just a headquarters for the people who work here. This is a headquarters for the 16,000 members of IIDA, so having elements of design that are recognizable, which is why we have a fair collection of classic furniture in our new space.

A lounge space with the use of classical furniture, layering of elements and the use of varying textures facing Michigan Ave. Photograph by Mike Johnson II, AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C

MJII: That works so well with the architecture and period.

CD: Yes, and again, if Mies were to come back and see our space, we have things that he would want in the space. He would be proud. #Mieswouldbeproud.

MJII: That’ll probably be the name of the article now!

CD: I loved working with Todd Heiser at Gensler on our space because I am not a minimalist. It’s like I like things, I like jewelry, I like objects, I love books and I have elements of my own African art collection in this space and he was able to honor that instead of saying “No, you can’t have any, everything has to be clean.”

For a full video experience of the new space click HERE

**The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the IIDA Mid Atlantic Chapter.**