“It seemed so obvious to me,” says designer Amanda Pratt. “To be able to walk into a gallery and 90 percent of what you see you could envision in your home—that’s a pretty tremendous experience for both buyers and makers.” She’s talking, of course, about her new multihyphenate space, Salon—a Boston-based showroom, gallery, and meeting space for design lovers of all kinds.
In the historic Beacon Hill neighborhood—in fact, in the city as a whole—this is a unique kind of space, where Pratt saw few offerings for designers to show their work. “I just thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to kind of contextualize contemporary design in a historic setting?” she says. “We have these beautiful, old windows and we the space with objects that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. For a place like Boston, that’s a little bit more conservative in terms of its design aesthetic, having that element of contextualization is very important.”
Salon opened in October with a gallery show featuring design duo Aratani Fay, but it had its official grand opening later in November. Already, a schedule of gallery shows, which change every few months, is filled out until 2020—and its programming puts women first.
“I started thinking that it would be fun to set up a contemporary design space,” Pratt says. “One of the first people I asked to be involved was Shanan Campanaro from Eskayel. Then, as I was building the roster of designers—like Aja Blanc, Debra Folz, Arielle Assouline-Lichten—I realized it was all women. I started to think about why that was. Then I realized that women create very approachable things in contemporary design.”
Compared with showrooms and galleries where pieces of furniture feel intended for museums rather than living spaces, Salon prioritizes objects that are accessible—even for people who are new to contemporary design. “My intent with Salon is to build a collection that resonates with people rather than alienates,” she says.
Another way Salon is working to make contemporary design more accessible is through its planned events, like book signing and talks, that will be open to the design community and the neighborhood as a whole. Additionally, the space is equipped with a café to make it a place where lovers of design can come together. In the spring, a garden area will open, creating additional gathering space.
“That’s why it’s called Salon—it’s meant to evoke that period of Gertrude Stein in Paris where you’re bringing together artists and thinkers and trying to cultivate a very cool and interesting atmosphere around something that’s very important,” she says. “For me, that’s female-focused contemporary design.”
The gallery shows that have been slated are guaranteed to lure diverse audiences, as a mix of emerging and more established designers are set to show their work in the space. This effort, Pratt hopes, will help artists and makers who are starting out to get both funding and exposure.
“We’ll do a student show in August, which will be a ‘best of’ from local design schools. For a month, they will show their work and sell if they want,” she says. “In the long run, what I would like to be able to do is set up a scholarship fund where once every year we take a new graduate and sponsor a year of studio work for them so that they can build collections.”
Above all, Pratt reiterates the importance of granting women a space in the design world, where they haven’t been given a level playing field for too long and too often. Through increased opportunities for funding, as well as publicity, she hopes these kinds of artists can be given the chance they so richly deserve—in addition to the power to make their lasting mark in contemporary design.
“I’ve got three daughters. When I think about what I want for my girls as they get older, it’s that I want them to come into a world where there’s more of a level playing field—the capacity for them to do whatever they want and feel empowered to do so. Salon, for me, is this incredible opportunity to showcase incredible designers and makers who I think have the capacity to really shift the conversation in the contemporary design field,” she says. “And the fact that they’re women is so much more special to me.”