Growing up in Chicago, Chris Kraig was always enchanted by buildings. Surrounded by structures by such modernist masters as Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and Mies Van Der Rohe, it was hard not to be. Such a reverence for mid-century architecture propelled him into the design world—he’s currently the longtime creative director of Suite NY, a New York City furniture showroom that offers coveted Scandinavian, Italian, German, and American brands. (Founded in 2006 by Maria Sepulveda and her best friend, Suite NY’s current leadership is composed of Maria, founder and principal, Nick Taricco, managing director, and Kraig.) “I’ve always been fascinated by the evolution of design from the inception of the industrial age through the post-war era,” Kraig tells Surface. He further tells us about expanding Suite NY’s roster, creating a digital showroom, and his favorite design pieces.
The Family-Like Ethos of Suite NY
Chris Kraig, the New York furniture showroom’s longtime creative director, explains his deeply personal approach, from meeting rising talents to producing digital design talks.BY SURFACE November 30, 2020
Tell us about your role as creative director. What does a “day in the life” look like?
I love being the creative director. I have the opportunity to showcase talent, organize spaces, create an essence, and entertain the design community in an intellectually challenging and aesthetically exciting way. Besides moving furniture, we constantly work on new initiatives. We’re always speaking to new and existing talent, getting updates of what’s in the pipeline, curating our selection, and keeping the overall aesthetic under the Suite NY umbrella. One recent project has been refreshing our website, which is probably our most important branding tool. It’s in our DNA to constantly evolve to reflect our current direction, and I work closely with the marketing team to ensure that our vision is clear and unified across all platforms.
You’ve been there since Suite NY’s founding in 2006. What was the company’s original vision? Has it evolved over the past decade?
In the early days, Suite NY’s focus was almost exclusively on mid-century pieces, and now we have loosened our approach and are open to more contemporary works and philosophies. Our original vision was to meld classic modern with contemporary design, with a spotlight on Scandinavia. We’ve always loved the mix of northern European and Italian aesthetics. Over the past decade, we’ve expanded our collection to include more artisan-made and one-of-a-kind pieces. We’re constantly on the lookout for fresh forms and evocative ideas.
Suite NY offers a range of designers and manufacturers from all over the world. What makes a designer a good fit for Suite NY, and how do you select who’s on your roster?
The core of our collection is composed of pieces by architects and industrial designers. We also include exceptional craftsmen, like the Hans J. Wegners of the world. Our selection is both intellectual and emotional—we’re interested in thought-provoking people as well as compelling ideas and designs, past and present. Before bringing anyone into the Suite NY family, we always get to know each other and make sure our work ethic, culture, and approach is compatible. We consider all of our collaborators to be friends as well as partners. We definitely employ a personal approach, which is something we attribute to our success.
What are some of your favorite brands or pieces in the showroom?
A. Petersen is at the top of my list. We started our relationship five years ago, and within the past year have brought their collection into our Park Avenue showroom. One intriguing piece is the Dan Svarth Sofa, which is bench-made in A. Petersen’s Copenhagen workshop. It has a solid mahogany frame, natural leather upholstery, and hemp, cotton and hair lock stuffing. Its craftsmen originally worked in the iconic Rud Rasmussen workshops, and every piece is completely handmade from natural materials sourced exclusively in Denmark.
I also love the Tool Boxes by Line Depping. It has six handmade Oregon pine or ash trays that act as drawers, supported by a steel frame welded by Poul Kjærholm’s grandson, Mikkel Kjærholm. There are so many good pieces in this collection. Some others I love are the OS Stool by Ole Schjøll and the Khep Chair by Knud Holscher and Ejnar Pedersen, the founder of PP Møbler. Anything Angelo Mangiarotti is also close to my heart, particularly the M Table from AgapeCasa. Another favorite is the Chair 300 by Joe Colombo—I love its transitional 1960s form and Milanese sensibility. And my all-time favorite chair is the PP501 chair by Hans J. Wegner—the combination of artistry and craftsmanship in the solid wood frame and meticulous seat inspires me as a creative.
Has COVID-19 impacted Suite NY? Have you found new ways to connect with clients?
COVID-19 actually gave us an opportunity to create new platforms to engage with our clients. Besides refreshing our website, we also introduced a video series of Design Talks, currently on our IGTV and Youtube channels. Similarly to how we are with our business partners, we take care to cultivate client relationships on a personal level, which is why we felt our Design Talks series would be a great way to engage clients and design enthusiasts who weren’t able to physically come to our showroom. While we were always working virtually, we had to close the showroom for a period during the lockdown, which inspired the idea of Design Talks.
There’s something to be said about the kinetic quality of video. We’re able to show the pieces in a new way—it’s not just about the enhanced angles and closeups, but rather the interaction between design and the people enjoying them. It’s also a way to experience our showroom’s energy without having to make the trip, which we find is especially useful for those who are unable to visit. I also enjoy sharing my passion for design through the telling of the history and craftsmanship behind each piece. We’ve found that our social media platforms have played a major role in keeping our relationships and connections energized during the pandemic, and we hope to keep evolving and growing on a digital level even after COVID-19 passes.