Accomplished interior designer Eric Cohler ’81 came to HWS recently to give a series of seminars for art and architecture students as well as a public lecture on his work and design philosophy. But simply calling Cohler an interior designer seems limiting; he is a visionary. Having recently been named as an Ambassador of Arts and Spirituality to the United Nations, as well as delivering the address as the keynote speaker of the G 20 in Seoul where he spoke about empowerment through art in third world countries, Cohler has a unique perspective on the world of art and design.
Cohler earned his B.A. in English and art history from Hobart in 1981. He holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from the Columbia University School of Architecture and Urban Design, and a certificate from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Currently, he has his own design firm, Eric Cohler Designs, located in New York City, where he works closely with clients to design and develop the space of their dreams.
In his public talk titled “Through the Artist’s Lens-Trusting your eye in a world gone mad,” Cohler described the interconnected relationship between art, architecture, interior design and fashion design. He began the talk with an image of the Farnsworth house, his own ideal for design, and from it, encouraged the students to find their own motivating source of inspiration. Speaking to a mixed audience of students and faculty, he urged them to “let your imagination take you places-both physically and mentally.” He had an abundance of advice for students, telling them to look to all sources of inspiration – history, art, travel-and to expand your interests to allow your creativity to make something surprising and unique.
He also reflected upon the fact that HWS made him a generalist. Above and beyond the many details he has to juggle within the designs, he can see the big picture. He shared with the group how he learned adaptability, crucial when working with clients, and to not limit yourself on what type of designer you could be. Cohler utilized his generalist skills to be designer of all sorts: fabrics, furniture, rooms and even ornaments.
“Always have conviction in what you do,” he advised. He also told students, Hobart and William Smith Colleges are the first step but what truly matters when charting your own path comes after you learn the fundamentals.
Cohler was recently named to the top 10 designer list in the U.S. by Elle Décor, and had his design and fabric selected by President Barack and Mrs. Michelle Obama for the White House dining room.
Industry magazine editors have dubbed Cohler the “Mixmaster” for his use of contemporary materials juxtaposed with classical elements. Since establishing his firm in 1991, House Beautiful has described him as one of the 14 “best of the best” in the “next wave of designers in America,” and he is included annually in their “Top 100” issue. His aesthetic is sought after for the country’s top showhouses, including the Kips Bay and Hampton Designer Showhouses. Cohler’s work often appears in leading domestic and international periodicals, books, and design television shows. Interior design manufacturers have taken notice of Cohler’s distinctive design aesthetic, with Visual Comfort carrying his lighting designs, and Lee Jofa premiering a Cohler fabric collection in September 2006.