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Holidays get surreal at Target

When modernist designer Tord Boontje set out to remake Target, he trained the store's trademark bull's-eye on the back of one man: Santa.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

When modernist designer Tord Boontje set out to remake Target, he trained the store's trademark bull's-eye on the back of one man.


Yes, in the retail chain's decorations, you can come upon Dancer and Dasher, upon Prancer and Vixen, but there's not a Kris Kringle in sight.

For the holidays, Boontje gave Claus the heave-ho-ho.

"I wanted to get rid of the old cliches," Boontje, the 38-year-old Dutch-born product designer, says by phone from his studio in Bourg-Argental, France. "This is a much more contemporary way, a fresh look."

So when Target hired Boontje 18 months ago, he was determined to push the nation's biggest design boutique in new aesthetic directions.

That meant forsaking the holiday season's holly and ivy for New Age, fairy-tale imagery. In his meticulous dreamscapes, antlers become trailing blossoms that converge with looping, bird-filled tree branches.

Target is introducing the eye-catching collaboration in a bold, slightly surreal television commercial, for which Boontje designed the sets. After the camera swoops from a winter picnic into a tree trunk, the gray suit-clad designer, surrounded by an ice-scape, says invitingly: "I have created a magical world for you."

Boontje's brand of magic also can be found on Target's shelves. His budget designs, mostly tableware, include a 35-piece collection that has a red acrylic candelabrum, red stoneware dishes, frosted candleholders, mugs, trays and a "Tord Holiday Bundle Pack" of paper plates, cups and napkins, all in the designer's motif.

"If I can do things that are really mass-produced and affordable for a very large audience, that's really the heart of good design," the soft-spoken Boontje says.

Boontje is not listed on Target's roster of "home designers" -- which includes Michael Graves, Isaac Mizrahi, Thomas O'Brien and Victoria Hagan -- but as one of the most imaginative minds on the contemporary scene, he's in the same class. His work is favored in fashion and design circles, and the "Tord touch" can be found at the New York Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and London's Victoria & Albert Museum.

From Milan to Main Street
Boontje has made a name for himself by breaking from generations of modernists to bury cold, spare interiors in romantic garlands of cut-out flowers. His alternative aesthetic has taken only about four years to jet-set from Milan, the capital of contemporary design, to Main Street.

Design clients noticed his lighting fixtures, which look like masses of flowers and cast shadows that decorate walls. His Blossom chandelier (costing $35,000), which replicates a cherry branch in pink Swarovski crystal and LED lights, is pure couture. But for less than $80 each, his Garland and Midsummer Light fixtures are turning bare bulbs into design classics.

"They could really see that this was a language that was very suitable for them to sell," he says. "It's really something deep inside of me."

Boontje also has been on the leading edge of using digital technology in textile design, producing pixelated flower patterns, manipulating fabric into three-dimensional blossoms and scissoring yardage into cut-outs suitable for dividing loft space or draping over minimalist furniture.

Or inspiring the holiday banners that hang in nearly 1,400 Target stores.

Boontje's first piece of cut-out flower furniture -- a garden bench -- will be unveiled on Dec. 8 by Moss Gallery during the Design Miami weekend. The limited-edition piece, which looks like a giant paper garland (cost: $29,500) is not all that remote from the Target collection.

Laboratories for experimentation
Boontje views high-end projects as laboratories for experimentation. The bench could lead to a mass-produced cut-out chair "in two or three years," says Boontje, who studied at the elite Design Academy in Eindhoven and received a master's degree at London's Royal College of Art.

In addition, his electronic flora and fauna are about to debut as part of a Target-sponsored project. On Dec. 4, Boontje will fly to New York to stage an interactive game called Bright Nights in Union Square Park. For most of next month, pedestrians will be able to play with projections of his snowflakes and forest creatures as they walk through the park.

Boontje was working at the cutting edge of minimalist design until 2000, when the birth of a daughter sent him on a search for fantasy and warmth. Four years later, at the Milan Furniture Fair, he hit his stride. At the invitation of the Italian design company Moroso, Boontje produced an installation of lighting and cutout fabrics, and the event, called "Happy Ever After," catapulted him to international stardom.

Boontje says he doesn't know whether the collaboration with Target will continue. For now, he hopes his work will make more people "aware that there is something really interesting going on in design -- that people actually are thinking creatively about the products we live with."