Design Quest Celebrates 45 Years with a Look Back

Design Quest furniture display

Jorgen and Meg Sorensen opened Design Quest in Gaslight Village in 1972 after relocating to Grand Rapids from Arizona. The couple was encouraged to make the move by Meg Sorensen’s brother in law, Joseph Grassie, who was the city manager of Grand Rapids.

Grassie sold the couple on the community, and since making the move they’ve built a thriving business that is celebrating its 45th anniversary this week.

To celebrate its longevity, Design Quest, located at 4181 28th Street SE, is taking a walk down memory lane by bringing in several pieces of furniture from the past. A retrospective of furniture from the store’s various periods and locations will be on exhibit on Thursday, Oct. 26 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the store. The furniture will remain on display in the store through Nov. 19.

Design Quest said it reached out to several customers and has been able to line up furniture and accessories harkening all the way back to 1972 for the retrospective. Some of the iconic designs are in great demand today and still in production.

GR|Mag spoke with Jorgen Sorensen about the store and what it’s 45th anniversary means to him.

Meg and Jorgen Sorensen in the downtown Fulton store, Nanna Ditzel coffee table in foreground will be exhibited.
Meg and Jorgen Sorensen in the downtown Fulton store, Nanna Ditzel coffee table in foreground will be exhibited.

GR|Mag: Tell me about the impetus for opening Design Quest 45 years ago?

Jorgen Sorensen: Meg, my wife, and I had been teaching at an exceptional boarding school that under a new headmaster was changing in ways we did not agree with. So we looked for a new career, and with my interest in furniture, we decided to import Scandinavian furniture and open a store.

GR|Mag: The 1970s seems like it was a fun time in the world of furniture design. Tell me what was popular back then and how Design Quest started making its mark on the Grand Rapids community with the items it carried?

JS: What was new to Grand Rapids was furniture that was light in scale, and use of fabric with pure colors that did not look like the material had been dipped in tea. New also were chairs and sofas that were designed for comfort as well as looks.

The quality of the furniture that Design Quest provided was very high. Mr. Kindel, who was retired at the time, visited the store regularly.  When he came in, he would run his hand along the underside of the apron on a table or under the seat of a chair, and tell me that one could tell more about the quality of a piece of furniture by how the parts that were not immediately visible were finished.

GR|Mag: How have you seen furniture design and tastes change over the decades and how has Design Quest evolved? What is popular today?

JS: In the seventies and eighties, Design Quest sold teak and rosewood furniture and bold and colorful Marimekko fabrics and dresses, and by far the largest percentage came from the Scandinavian countries.  Now, we look for furniture from everywhere.

The criterion is still good design, and the definition of good design is furniture you will be happy to live with for many years.  Our 45th anniversary exhibit includes some pieces of furniture purchased from Design Quest 45 years ago.

Rosewood Flip Flap table in the Eastown store.
Rosewood Flip Flap table in the Eastown store.

GR|Mag: Design Quest is having a party this week and will be showing off items from throughout the decades. What are some of the items that will be on display that you are particularly excited about showing off and that has been fun to go back and reminisce over?

JS: You will have to come and see for yourself.  There are pieces that are very rare because so few were produced.  And pieces that were from furniture competitions where a designer and cabinetmaker team were given a wood plank and told to produce furniture from it.

We are showing a Stressless chair from 1974, and a Hans Wegner chaise made of oak and flagline that was purchased from our first store in Gaslight Village.

GR|Mag: What excites you about today’s trends and styles?

JS: It will be interesting how new materials and production methods will influence the design process.  Porcelain sheets intended for cladding buildings are now used for tabletops that are impervious to any daily abuse.  We have only gotten a hint of how the use of carbon fiber might be used, and the use of making furniture with 3D printers is in its infancy.

GR|Mag: Do you work with clients on full room designs and if so, could you highlight a project that you particularly enjoyed recently? Or could you provide a couple of tips for people looking to update their homes with new furniture?

JS: We certainly work with clients on whole rooms or houses, but the tip that will always guide you is to buy quality. When you extend a table and the leaves magically rise up, there is a satisfaction, when you feel the underside of a chair seat and it is beautifully finished there is pleasure. These daily rewards will reinforce the value of your purchase.

GR|Mag: Is there anything else about the party or the past 45 years or just design in general you’d like to share that I haven’t asked about?

JS: We would like to express our appreciation to all the people who have worked with us over the years and to the customers who have supported us and validated our effort.

Hans Wegner designed chaise sold in Gaslight Village will be on display.
Hans Wegner designed chaise sold in Gaslight Village will be on display.

*All photos courtesy of Design Quest

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