I have to be honest. Las Vegas is one of those places that has never ever never never ever been on my radar because to me, Vegas is a Carnival Cruise meets Times Square, multiplied by a thousand. Consumerism at America's best with 24-hour flash and over designed spaces reminiscent of a first year design school project (twenty finishes in one space, anyone?) and just about as much class as an abandoned school house.

But...Dennis Krause (Senior VP of IIDA), one of my favorite IIDA peeps, invited little old me to join an esteemed panels of judges at this year's IIDA 18th Annual Product Design Competition in...Vegas. I couldn't say no to Dennis!

I was put up at the Vdara Hotel, located in MGM's mega development called City Center which is touted as the largest privately funded development to date in North America.  The hotel was designed by starchitect Rafael Vinoly and interiors by Adam Tihany- but to me, the best part of the hotel was the classic Damascus Gate piece created in 1969 by Frank Stella that sat behind the reception desk. Stella trumped my 53rd story views of the strip and the fact that I was in what some people call, "the best city on earth" (shudder). Okay, enough about the hotel- let's talk about the awards!

Alongside fellow design leaders, Patricia Rotondo, Rick Marencic and Scott Hierlinger, we spent a day reviewing over 97 entries in categories from wall finishes, to flooring to furnishings. As you know, judging design is never difficult for me to do- so it was a really enjoyable day for me! In the end- we picked some great new items that will all improve and elevate the standards for materials and furnishings in the commercial design industry- some too, which we hope to slip into some smaller residential projects too!  

My favorite item was this year's winner from Architectural Systems. They have created a recycled stone and resin wall product that resembles rustic wood and ledge stone. I know the rustic wood thing is on its way out because we're seeing so much of it- BUT what I loved most was the fact that they created a product that was budget friendly $17-$20 PSF, lightweight and containing 70% recycled natural material. Not to mention- one of the products reminds me of Shou-Sugi-Ban, which is burnt Japanese cypress and has been one of my "to-die" materials that I dream of cladding my cottage-in-the-woods with, one day...

 Shou Sugi Ban, burnt Japanese Cedar wood

Shou Sugi Ban, burnt Japanese Cedar wood

 Cast Stone Dimensional Panels, by Architectural Systems Inc.

Cast Stone Dimensional Panels, by Architectural Systems Inc.

After we announced the winners, I wandered HD Expo and stumbled into people I haven't seen in a long time, and some fellow Miami industry folk that I want to see more of. It was a great opportunity to be part of the event and to inject my professional opinion in a valid manner for once...haha.  Thank you to the IIDA and my fellow judges, who I shared many laughs and design stories with.