Revolutionizing and Nurturing Authentic Furniture Design
USC alumnus Jerry Helling has revolutionized Bernhardt Design, one of America’s oldest furniture companies, all while tirelessly working to preserve authentic design. Approaching furniture ideas from fresh perspectives and investing in LA County’s young designers, DIGS gets a snapshot of this visionary’s direction.
Since the onset of his career, Jerry Helling, president and creative director of Bernhardt Design, has elevated the company from a family-run wooden furniture business to an internationally acclaimed design brand with a conscious. Celebrating his 25th anniversary with Bernhardt, Helling has accomplished much for the future of streamlined furniture design.
Famously known for collaborating and nurturing fierce talent from all over the world, Helling has brought under Bernhardt’s umbrella such talents as Ross Lovegrove, who designed the famed Go chair, and Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, designer of the cheeky backless-armless sofa in the brand’s recent Colours collection. With a vast hit list of unique and groundbreaking designs from great creatives, Helling shares,
“There’s no particular formula I use to find great designers; I am just attracted to really talented people…not necessarily furniture designers, either. They are typically photographers, fashion designer, artists, or the like. This allows a fresh perspective and approach to design.”
Bernhardt remains a family-owned business, one with a history of being lovingly committed to community and environmental welfare. Helling himself holds an even deeper conviction to maintaining design authenticity and nurturing young talent. One initiative dear to his heart is Be Original Americas, a program created to educate consumers and designers on why we should concern ourselves with original design, which is not limited to furniture design or apparel design or art, but is an architectural, museum and music issue, as well. Helling was the first president of the program—originally a collective idea encompassing 10 different manufacturers and designers that addressed compromised designs (aka knockoffs), taking the problem from a conversation to action. The group offers education through lectures, events and teaching young designers one on one. Now on the board after years of service, Helling explains, “There are environmental, performance, and social issues about where and how these products are made, and in the end, copying a design is stealing.” Thus, the Be Original website calls designers, decorators, architects, musicians, interior designers and anyone in the creative field to join the initiative to protect design originality.
On a similar note, Helling is part of a handful of programs for design students and young designers just starting out, including Tools for School initiative, Contempto and The Carrot Concept in El Salvador, yet his self-proclaimed favorite project, ICFF Studio, is based in Los Angeles County at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Here, students gain professional hands-on experience such as seeing a product from conception to completion then through the sales and marketing process, and, finally, to retail. Bernhardt Design, meanwhile, presents these designs at market, and even pays royalties to students for their original work. Every other week each fall, Helling actually works in the school’s studio, where six local LA design students recently won candidacy for the Bernhardt ICFF scholarship project.
Furniture by Bernhardt Design is available locally at Twentieth in Los Angeles as well Hive Modern. Outside of growing the company’s brand, Helling desires to encourage the design community to strive for accountability and originality to preserve and protect the industry as well as nurture and protect talent.
Written by Joclene Davey | Photography courtesy of Bernhardt Design