Designer Felicia Ferrone worked as an architect for six years in Milan, Italy before returning home to Chicago a year and a half ago. She now runs her own design practice and wishes Chicago had more of a reputation as a design center.
Ferrone thinks what has kept Chicago from being better known is its Midwestern work ethic.
“Everyone is just busy working, instead of clamoring for attention,” she said.
Ferrone and her business partner David M. Krell are now trying to bring more attention to the city’s designers and manufacturers. They have just launched a new project called Shared Practice. It’s a web-based project in which designers share resources and publicize what they’re doing.
Ferrone got the idea when she was selected to show several pieces at a downtown gallery last year. She designed her pieces and wanted to try to get them all made locally. “I was totally surprised,” she said. “We were able to get everything made within a one-mile radius of the downtown loop, except for one piece, and that we had made in Indianapolis.”
She says there are very few places that can manufacture high-end materials and pieces in the United States, so many designers still send their designs to be made in Europe. She thinks if Chicago would stop underselling itself, it could gain part of this lucrative market, which includes the manufacture of, for example, Ferone's own “Tuck” benches, which sell for about $5,800 each.
Ferrone and Krell plan to expand Shared Practice to other cities, including New York, this fall. But Ferrone says she is happy to be working in Chicago. “I came back here for a job. And I thought, 'I’m giving up a lot for this.'” But, she later added, “I’ve never been so professionally satisfied in my life.”
She thinks Chicago can continue to make design a much larger part of its economy and identity. “The impact of design is everything from Millenium Park to the many schools that are teaching design, to the manufacturers that make the pieces,” She says. “It is so important to this city.”