Design Wars

Design Within Reach claims to wipe the slate clean and start 2010 with a new way of doing business. The new chief executive John Edelman reports in to duty on Monday morning at D.W.R. headquarters in San Francisco and admits that he faces a tough challenge in the coming months, identifying previous reputation problems as a company that promotes original designs, all the while selling knockoff reproductions. The natives of D.W.R. (read: investors) are restless as they have played witness to falling stocks that once peaked at $18 per share, but now are only valued at a dismal $.12 per share, along with sales dropping by 35 percent by the second quarter in 2009. The company’s record year brought in $197 million in 2007.

Rob Forbes, a former potter and Stanford M.B.A. graduate, first introduced us to his design concept in 1999, aiming to make modern design pieces available to consumers. But in recent years the company has seen lawsuits from designers like Blu Dot Inc. and Alan Heller, a manufacturer in New York, who created the Bellini chair in 1997. Earning back the respect of designers is an admitted challenge facing Edelman. As he told The New York Times, “We need the design community. We want them to come to us with their ideas,” while also explaining that though D.W.R. would stop producing knockoffs, “it would not stop making products inspired by classics. If you see something in Milan, and go ahead and produce something inspired by it, that’s not a knockoff,” he said. “It’s how the industry runs.”

With designer David Rockwell now on the D.W.R. board, and Edelman’s hopes to work with Marc Newson, Thad Hayes, and David Collins on new creations, 2010 has the potential to be the defining comeback year for the brand.