As the 2015 recipients of the Eric Cohler Internship and Travel Award, Zachary Birnbaum ’16 and Paige Davidson ’16 were afforded the opportunity to explore and refine their passion for design and the arts through a rare dual internship and study abroad experience.
The annual award is made possible by gifts from one of the country’s leading interior designers and an adjunct professor at HWS Eric Cohler ’81. The award supports HWS students for a two-week internship with Eric Cohler Design, Inc., in New York City and 10 days of study in Europe. Davidson traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark and Stockholm, Sweden after completing her internship during the summer of 2015, while Birnbaum studied in London, Leeds and Yorkshire, England over the summer and will complete his internship during winter break.
“My experiences in New York City and Europe have greatly enhanced my desire to study and form a career around interior and textile design,” says Davidson, an architectural studies major. “Eric Cohler Design, Kvadrat, Svenskt Tenn and everyone else I met in Europe and in New York allowed me to gain valuable insight into the world of interior and textile design. Words cannot express my gratitude to have received this award and further explore my passion.”
From the start of her internship, Davidson served as a member of the Eric Cohler Design team. Tasked with various responsibilities – such as selecting wallpaper for clients, compiling rug samples and visiting construction sites – Davidson says she learned many of the “intricate details” vital to designing a client’s space; different methods used when printing designs into textiles; and also participated in “deep conversations” about what makes interior design so important.
Additionally, she was able to put her design skills into practice, as several of her sketches of sconces, chandeliers and lamps were so well-received that her colleagues presented them in a meeting with Cohler and two light companies as choices for Cohler’s new spring 2016 light collection. It was opportunities like this – which Davidson calls the “highlight” of the internship – that resulted in “life-changing learning experiences and amazing, door-opening opportunities.”
Abroad, Davidson had the experience of a lifetime, meeting with textile designers and interior architects from some of Europe’s leading textile manufacturers, exploring historic sites and art museums, and viewing her favorite designers’ work.
“My experiences with Cohler Design and studying abroad helped me to further define my interests within design and how I approach design as a whole,” Davidson says. “It has also helped me determine what kind of a designer I would like to be. I feel it has been a gift for me to have this foundational base before entering into a master’s program.”
She also has been able to apply the skills and knowledge she learned from the internship to her independent study, “The Social Connotations of Colors,” in which she’s researching the history of color and how it psychologically affects people.
An aspiring sculptor, Birnbaum viewed the works of his “sculpting hero,” Henry Moore, while studying abroad. After exploring many of the major art museums in London, Birnbaum visited Henry Moore’s House at Perry Green, where Birnbaum says he “got to step into the world” of Moore through a tour of his house and sculpture garden.
“I spent two days walking through the sculpture garden taking in everything I could to try and push my own sculpture, which is lightly based on some of Henry Moore’s concepts,” says the studio arts major.
Birnbaum also drew inspiration for his artwork in Leeds and Yorkshire, where he studied the work of Barbara Hepworth and had the opportunity to visit the 300-acre Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which was one of the highlights of the trip for Birnbaum.
“I think that having inspiration all around me in England pushed my visual interests and expression,” he says. “It brought my work to a whole new level, and without the abroad portion I don’t believe that my sculptures from my independent study would have turned out anywhere as good as they did.”
Over winter break, he will complete his internship at Cohler Design, where he says he will “step out of his comfort zone” to work on a light installation.
“I think because my two experiences are so different, I will gain much more perspective on the world,” Birnbaum says. “Abroad, I looked at sculpture for forms but the internship will give me the opportunity to look at the interior as space. I get to experience a multifaceted abroad and internship experience that build on one another through an ambiguous idea of space.”
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.
Established in 1991, Eric Cohler Design, Inc., specializes in interior design and restoration. The firm is led by Cohler, dubbed the “Mixmaster” by magazine editors for using classical elements juxtaposed with contemporary materials for a jolt of unusual color or texture. Cohler has been named to the top 10 designer list in the U.S. by Elle Décor and is also included in House Beautiful‘s “Top 100” designers issue. His design and fabric were selected by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for the White House dining room. He was also recently named as an Ambassador of Arts and Spirituality to the United Nations and served as the keynote speaker of the G20 in Seoul, South Korea.