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Susan Dickenson

Portrait: John Cunningham

Creative curator

For John Cunningham, the October 2013 High Point Market was a personal debut, of sorts. Cunningham is the new John Cunninghamcreative director for Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Wildwood, Frederick Cooper and Jonathan Charles U.S., overseeing product development and showroom design.

Though the spring market was his first in that role, the fall market was significant in that Cunningham was responsible for setting the stage for several key launches:

Jonathan Charles' new William Yeoward Collection of accent furniture; Art Lite by Artemis (the designer formerly known as Raymond Waites), a 50-piece lighting and accessories collection for Frederick Cooper; new additions to the Alexander Julian accent furniture and lighting collections; the addition of wall décor and an expanded chandelier offering at Wildwood; and the debut of Stiletto, Cunningham's first accent furniture collection, for Jonathan Charles.

When Home Accents Today met with Cunningham prior to High Point, he was running at full speed to have everything in place for the start of market. "We've been under (showroom) construction for the past six to eight weeks, tearing down walls, ripping up carpet, exposing floors, moving furniture around, remerchandising to show everything in a new way," he said. "I have three containers coming in ... so that's going to be a mad dash. It is definitely exciting, and I absolutely love what I'm doing. Every day is a creative day."

Before joining the Wildwood group of companies, Cunningham spent the first half of his career in New York and New England, working in visual merchandising before opening his own residential interior design business. A move south brought him to North Carolina where he worked for Furnitureland South before joining Guildmaster as creative director, a position he held for seven years.

He stepped into his newest position at the beginning of a "transformation" period, which has Jonathan Charles "expanding into more transitional, cleaner designs and a more modern approach."JC glance

How was the market? We had a fabulous October market and were substantially up over last year. On the Jonathan Charles side, the William Yeoward ... Collected launch was an enormous success and exceeded our expectations. We are so proud to be partnering with William and look forward to many years of a successful relationship. We have already begun plans and designs for the spring market and anticipate another win in April. Other customer favorites were the Detroit Collection, Stiletto and Alexander Julian's Tartan plaid group. Our Wildwood brand had great success with its extended focus on good, transitional design - mid-century modern, hand-blown glass and a multitude of new chandeliers sold well. Also, our launch with Artemis for Frederick Cooper was enthusiastically embraced by our buyers.

Did Raymond Waites' name change to Artemis, a few days before market, present much of a challenge? Although the Artemis name change caught us all by surprise, the media coverage and response from our customers was extremely positive. Market preparation always has its challenges with unexpected surprises along the way. I dare say, though, that in my 35 years of being in this business, I've never had a situation quite like this one.

Tell me more about Stiletto. Stiletto is a group of accent tables, pedestals, consoles and hall tables inspired by the sculptor Giacometti. This group is named for the legs, which are hammered brass. It's delicate looking but is actually nice and heavy.

Where do you get your design inspiration? Much of it comes from a passion for collecting art and antiques that I share with my partner, Dr. Gary McKeel. We have filled our home with art, sculpture and antiques from around the globe. When traveling, we always leave a little space in the trunk or carry-on bag for one more artifact or relic. I am amazed at the beautiful architecture and design that exists around the world, and I try to translate what I see or imagine into current product that is saleable in today's market.

What's the highlight of your career thus far? It happened recently because for the first time I'm truly 100% involved in product development. We were in India or China, I can't remember, and I walked in and saw some finished products I had designed. I experienced such an enormous sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that I literally got chills.

How has the industry changed over the years? At one time we all worked with suites of furniture and everything was matchy-matchy. We have so gotten away from that - whether you're merchandising a showroom or styling a room or doing your own home - and I think that's an enormous change. I've spent all this time and effort merchandising the showroom and it's all about mixing it up, layering pieces with other pieces, or styles, or periods, that you never would have in the past.

What's the biggest challenge you face on a daily basis? Time. Just having enough hours in the day and enough space in my brain to remember everything that I've seen or that I want to do. I think we're all in that same boat. Wearing so many different hats, prioritizing and keeping them straight is a challenge, but I love it.

What's next? Our Wildwood collection of new lamps and accessories for Mount Vernon will be launching in April 2014. Wildwood has had a Mount Vernon collection for years, but it's gotten a bit stale - florals, ceramics, birds and stuff that was typical 20 years ago - so it's time to remodernize it. We had great response to the three "teaser" lamps we showed this market and anticipate a collection of 12 to15 pieces in April. Earlier this year, I took a wonderful road trip to Mount Vernon and spent three days going through the house and grounds, the museum and the archives where a lot of George and Martha Washington's personal effects are stored. It was truly an amazing experience.

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