For Thirty Years, DIFFA Has Made a Difference
Text & Photos by Sean Black
Celebrating thirty years, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) once again gathered some of the world’s top designers along with the biggest names in home decor for its annual fundraising dinner and auction.
DIFFA’s signature event, Dining by Design 2014, was held March 20–24 at Manhattan’s Pier 94 in conjunction with the Architectural Digest Home Design Show. Transforming the waterfront space into an extravaganza of palatable delights, the closing night Gala communed patrons around over forty, beautifully appointed tables ranging from the stark and sublime to the lavish and inviting. Whether channeling ancient Rome or invoking tropical mysticism from the jungles of Bali, the evening festivities offered worldly flair with tabletops carefully set with vivid centerpieces, exquisite settings, and luxury linens. Offering additional food-for-thought, many of the tasteful installations served up stirring messages, reminding attendees and those seated of why they’d come together.
Co-chaired by Cindy Allen, DIFFA Board Chairman and Editor in Chief of Interior Design Magazine, along with event co-chair and board trustee, Alfredo Paredes of Ralph Lauren, the weekend-long thirtieth-anniversary tribute (at-times available for public viewing) also included an opening mixer, Cocktails by Design.
“This extraordinary event coalesces the most creative visionaries in design today, who all bring their enormous talent and passion to the table, creating community for us all,” opens Allen in her welcome.
Having grown to an impressive organization since its grass-roots inception in 1984, DIFFA’s executive director, Johanna Osburn proudly reports, “DIFFA and our chapters (Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, New York, San Francisco, Seattle) have granted over $40 million over the last thirty years, and many of our early grantees continue to lead the charge in fighting AIDS in the United States through treatment, education, prevention and research.”
Originally founded as Design and Interior Furnishings Foundation for AIDS, the organization was launched by textile designer Patricia Green, a still active, ex-oficio board member and design industry executive Larry Pond, who succumbed to his battle with AIDS in 1992. Today, DIFFA is a leading financial supporter of organizations that provide prevention education programs targeted to populations at risk of infection, treatment, and direct care services for people living with or impacted by HIV/AIDS. They also help groups that support public policy initiatives in an effort to add resources to private sector funds.
“DIFFA has an incredible legacy,” continues Osburn. “It was founded by a group of designers in response to a crisis. They saw the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS among their peers and harnessed their anger and fear into one of the most successful organizations in the fight. We also have been able to harness the creativity and passion of our supporters to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS through our events and provide in-kind support as well.”
A recap of some of the eye-catching tables and dining spaces at this year’s gala include Gensler + Herman Miller, with a color-changing space reminding us to love “XO” one another; Design Within Reach, with a sturdy, modern and simplified approach; and Roche Bobois, with a sleek and faceted, semi-enclosed lounge space created by sister architects Hariri & Hariri.
IA Interior Architects & Teknion Studio presented a gift-box vignette.
A Japanese “Mount Fuji” retreat was surrounded by silks dyed with clouds by 2Michaels for Beacon Hill.
Also notable were the regal creation by Philip Gorrivan for Fendi Casa and Luxe Magazine inspired by the Massimo Listri’s photograph of the seventeenth-century Reggia di Venaria I; and the relaxed yet elegant space by Ralph Lauren Home, which touted a cherry blossom-adorned Evalina chandelier.
An exotic motif with jungle flair was offered by Arteriors sporting Golden Subin accent stools surrounding an organic Kazu dining table.
Kara Mann designed a hand-dyed tribute space for Maya Romanoff, who recently passed.
David Rockwell’s commemorative photo wall invited attendees to participate in pictures.
Architectural Digest’s freshly floral creation with settings by Bernardaud surrounded an extravagant Carlos Mota centerpiece bouquet.
Echo Design’s cozy corner of Heirloom India offered a breathtaking space while Knoll with HOK dazzled with sparkling Swarovski stemware and offered colorful macaroon treats.
Kravet’s installation introduced Diane von Furstenberg’s geometrically bold and colorful collection for the home.
Marc Blackwell’s creation was encapsulated in a unified orange-red structure with poppies centering the tabletop.
And New York Design Center (NYDC) with Kati Curtis affirmed a masculine-feminine juxtaposed approach featuring Timorous Beasties wall papers and gender-playful portraits by Ulric Collette.
Up-and-coming student designers and their mentors from Fashion Institute of Technology, New York School of Interior Design and Pratt Institute through DIFFA’s Student Design Initiative presented by Benjamin Moore with support from Angelo Donghia Foundation presented thoughtful and powerful designs as well. Students Tumay Gunaydin and Mee Tran of Pratt delivered a “noir” envelope, which gave viewers pause about the darkness of social stigma and comforted with an endless illusion of place settings representing limitless hope.
Design diva Elaine Griffin, competing on NBC’s American Dream Builders, was in attendance along with the show’s host Nate Berkus. As a
design professional lending her talents to several DIFFA galas over the years, Griffin said, ”Supporting DIFFA means taking care of our own. At its onset, the AIDS epidemic decimated some of the brightest lights in our industry. It ran through our ranks like the Black Plague, and as creative talents, it is in our best interest to do all we can to help eradicate the disease and also support those who succumb. They are our family.”
The recent Episode 5 winner continues, “I’ve designed three tables for DIFFA’s Dining by Design, two for the New York Design Center and one for Elle Decor, and I loved doing them. They’re among my most creatively over the top moments, great collaborations with genius talents, in a warm and festive atmosphere that belied the chaos of breakneck-speed installations. Good fun for a great cause.”
Pairing equally with the good fun of the evening was a focal fixture commemorating DIFFA’s thirty-year mission in the fight against AIDS. The “Memory Wall” invited attendees to reflect on lives lost to the disease and to share sentiments in writing of their hopes for future generations. One of the touching inscriptions read, “Didn’t get a chance to meet you, but I sill love and miss you—your niece, Gabriela.”
Whether hand-penned in Sharpie or brushed in brightly colored Benjamin Moore premium paint, for AIDS, the writing’s on the walls. For the design world, Dining By Design is an opportunity to decorate the lives of those we’ve lost to AIDS and to unite with each other around the table of life.
For more information about DIFFA log on to: www.diffa.org.
Sean Black is an A&U Editor at Large.