Be In the Know

Be In the Know. Sign up to have DesignDestinations delivered right to your inbox, weekly.

Kendall College of Art and Design Faculty Create Cool Desk










If you happened to wander into UICA (Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts) during ArtPrize this year you might have noticed the striking front desk.

It doesn’t look like most reception desks you see at art museums, public institutions or hotels   Designed by two faculty members of Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, it is supposed  to be a little edgy, different and creative.

Sam Blanchard and Bob Marsh spent much of their summer welding 15,000 10 inch steel rods together to create a new reception desk. Sam spoke enthusiastically about the project when he met me at the brand new high profile facility smack dab in the middle of Grand Rapids.

The project started last winter when  they met with the Executive Director of UICA and the design team from Via Design to review what the desk needed “ to do.”

“They wanted specific height and size.  It had to function not only as the area where a guest is greeted and buys tickets and asks questions.  It is also the sales desk for the retail space,” Sam explains.

“They didn’t want any thing off the shelf.  It had to be creative and new and make an impact,” he continued. “and that’s not surprising given the mission and philosophy of UICA.”

The end result–thousands of small steel rods welded together and powder coated white creating a bird’s nest like  texture and pattern.  It looks transparent, but it isn’t.

Even the shape, starkly angular, is more interesting than the usual straight line front desk.

What is most interesting to me is that they decided to use an English privet fence as an inspiration, creating the feeling one might have coming to a home.  Since this building is UICA’s new home, it is a lovely and fitting concept.


“We didn’t want it to be intimidating.  Sometimes the idea of Contemporary Art can be, so we wanted the area where visitors are welcomed to be inviting,” Sam says.  “We felt the hedge image worked because a hedge is often what welcome you to a home.”


The large slabs of metal used for the actual selling and functional areas are an inspiration of Bob’s.  He remembers throwing towels on a hedge to dry after a day of swimming as a child. Bob and Sam used large slabs of sheet steel powder coated white to create work stations, meeting the utilitarian needs.

Will this installation have any application to Kendall?


“Most certainly,” says Sam.  “It is good for our students to see that the faculty are actually practicing artists.  And I”m going to for sure point out that we used the simplest and most basic form of welding to connect the thousands of rods.  This is a technique taught very early in the program.”

Is he happy? You bet.

“It feels really great,” says Sam.  “It’s cool to know that it will be here for a long time. Lots of times our work is transient.”

To visit the desk, go to UICA at 2 West Fulton in Grand Rapids.



Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Judy bereza
    Oct 14, 2011 Reply

    I was really impressed with that desk – how interesting to
    know its history.

  2. posted by
    Meegan Holland
    Oct 16, 2011 Reply

    I love this desk! One person thought it was an ArtPrize entry – and I can understand why!

  3. posted by
    Kate D.
    Oct 17, 2011 Reply

    It is really cool to know the story behind the desk – I’ll remember it whenever I walk in there. Thanks!

Leave a Reply