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Feb 22, 2006
One year during college Tom Gunkelman took a summer gig in a fabric design studio in his hometown of Fargo, North Dakota—and ended up dropping out of school and staying three years. The move was not entirely out of character: Since childhood Gunkelman had been fascinated by design because of his frequent home shopping expeditions to the big city—Minneapolis—with his mother. But though he inherited his mother’s love of design, he did not share her affection for traditional Americana. While studying architecture in college, he found his own aesthetic mooring in the work of Mies van der Rohe—whose influence, together with that of Mies contemporaries Florence Knoll, Herman Miller, Jens Rison, Eero Saarinen and John Saladino—make up Gunkelman’s design family tree. "I’ve used their lines throughout my career," he says, which predates by 30-odd years the design world’s current mid-century love fest. Still, he says, people don’t want designers imposing a single look anymore. "Things have really loosened up," he notes. "Now clients want an eclectic mix that reflects their personalities. The designer’s task is to guide them so that all the various elements—whether they’re from India, the eighteenth century or 1952—work together in the space."