If you've ever had the urge to step inside the pages of your favorite magazine, you're not alone -- in fact, it's a concept Dwell Media president and CEO Michela O'Connor Abrams successfully used to breathe life into Dwell magazine and the industry of home design more than a decade ago. She may not be the mother of dragons, but Abrams is most definitely the proud mother of the Dwell on Design show and a contender in the game of media thrones.
In addition to celebrating the 10th anniversary of the annual design event championing modern living at Los Angeles Convention Center (May 25-31) and boasting more than 32,000 attendees, the largest audience to date, Dwell on Design had yet another reason to break out the bubbly: the announcement of a multi-million dollar sale of the show to UK-based Informa, operated by Informa Exhibitions U.S., Construction and Real Estate in Dallas, Texas -- and plans for international expansion.
The Dwell Outdoor Showcase featured the first-ever LĀLO Outdoor Cinema screening design-related short films.
Abrams said selling the live event portion of Dwell Media to one of the world's largest producers of design construction shows was a natural next step, and a process she likened to speed dating. "I was seeking someone to help make us global," she explained during a sit down at the show's LG Re-Imagination Pavilion. "Someone to help put the scale of underpinnings that a show this big really needs...we couldn't possibly continue to scale this by ourselves." Abrams said it was only last February when she entered into discussion with Informa in earnest. "They came to us, we went to them -- it started moving very quickly because they absolutely understood why the brand was sacrosanct." Abrams and vice president of content/ editor in chief of Dwell magazine, Amanda Dameron will continue their roles shaping the show to maintain its voice and integrity. "We're not just selling off a piece of Dwell... it's about getting a bigger team that knows how to do the much bigger operational piece." Still, she admits the move is bittersweet, "because even though this is what we wanted to happen and we're very excited -- it is a chapter closing and another opening."
Abrams said the journey to becoming "the largest design event in America" began when she and Dwell founder Lara Hedberg Deam decided to build a different kind of media brand -- one she envisioned, "providing the company mission at any time, in any place, in any form." Not only in print, but online, via broadcast and up close and personal. Thirteen years ago, the idea was a game changer. Today, implementing the mission of a media company across multiple platforms is expected. "Every magazine has a conference now," says Dameron, "but Michela had the idea to do Dwell on Design more than ten years ago and the fact that it has grown into what it is today with more than 32,000 people getting in their cars, traveling downtown to the convention center on the weekend -- I used to live here [in L.A.], and that's no small feat -- it makes me extremely proud."
Rocking modern style at Fermob
Prior to the dawn of Dwell on Design Abrams said US home shows could be categorized as either decorating events for the public or construction and building shows for the trade. It was not until she traveled to Europe with Deam that Abrams found a muse for her vision. At design shows in Milan, Cologne and Paris, Abrams remembers although the shows were still huge, the vibe was very different. "You were immersed in an experience, and it felt like the brands were welcoming you into a home. They did installations," she explained, "you felt like you were somewhere in between a museum and a show... this was what we had to bring to the United States."
Today, the Dwell in Design shows held annually in New York and Los Angeles attract both professionals and enthusiasts and incorporate everything from cooking and DIY demonstrations to home and loft tours, on-stage presentations, workshops and experiential exhibits that encourage meandering, not speed walking.
Food demo and tasting at the LG Re-Imagination Pavillion
Abrams admits seeing the show in action on its 10th anniversary is, "kind of surreal". She said, "I can tell you exactly what I was wearing when I grabbed Lara [Hedberg Deam], our owner and founder, and boarded a flight down here [from the Bay Area] to tour the convention center." Abrams said when they looked out over the expansive convention center floor in the West Hall, the 10,000 square foot space looked daunting. "I thought how will we ever fill it." This year, the show sprawled across 326,000 square feet. "My dream," said Abrams, "is by 2017 I want the whole convention center to myself so we can add garden design pavilions and build out things that are resident here... I'm still saying '17 is possible, but it may be '18." Buckle those designer seatbelts.
They grow up so fast.
Designs at Lounge 22
Up next, the second annual Dwell on Design New York October 2-4, 2015 at Skylight Clarkson Square. Dwell on Design Los Angeles is booked for June 24-26, 2016. Mark your calendars.
Photography by Bonnie McCarthy