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Ricchio Design Retreat Visits NeoCon World Trade Fair

Published: June 3, 2013

The Design Department’s Joe Ricchio, a member of the university since 2003, recently established the non-profit Ricchio Design Retreat Inc. (RDR) to take CSULB furniture design students on field trips each year.

RDR will take selected CSULB Design majors to the NeoCon World Trade Fair 2013 held June 10-12 at Chicago’s famed Merchandise Mart. For the students, Ricchio Design Retreat has arranged guided tours of furniture showrooms seeing newly introduced products, a shared breakfast with design professionals and manufacturers and visits to many of Chicago’s museums and sites.

RDR is funded by charitable donations from Ricchio Design clients, design professionals and friends of the program.

This year’s participating students are Ayako Otani, Kyoto, Japan; Kenji Okada, Anaheim; Peter Tu, Santa Barbara; Michael Bemis, Running Springs, Calif.; Miles Thompson, San Diego; and Jeff McCoy, Long Beach.

NeoCon is North America’s largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors, providing more than 40,000 architecture and design professionals with more than 120 CEU-accredited seminars and association forums. Students will see a full review of the kinds of furniture being created by designers, architects, interior designers and manufacturers for today’s offices. They have the chance to discover thousands of innovative products and resources for corporate, hospitality, healthcare, retail, government, institutional and residential interiors from more than 700 showrooms and exhibitors.

In 2003, Ricchio re-instituted the Furniture Design 435A/B class in CSULB’s Design Department. He taught furniture from 2003-08 and is teaching it currently. In 2004, he established the Cortona Design Retreat, a program to take selected students to visit the Milan Furniture Fair and experience Italian culture.

He points to the success of the Cortona Design Retreats from 2004-09.

“It was a success. Lots of learning and fun, but with various life, time and priority changes it had come to a close,” he recalled. The Cortona Design Retreat was considered for revival when Ricchio rejoined the design faculty in 2010, but a CDR donor and client suggested that a U.S. based trip might be just as beneficial. “NeoCon World Trade Fair was suggested, it would be just as useful and more affordable,” he recalled. “It’s an easier trip and you can take more students. And a trip to NeoCon is more directly related to what students want to do: design furniture.”

When selecting the first student group for NeoCon, Ricchio tried to get a sense of who had career interests in furniture design. “Their interest is the main thing but next to that was the question, ‘Who would get the most out of the trip?’” he asked. “For some, this trip is a career maker and, for some, a career breaker, but both make journeys of discovery.”

Students will participate in various events including an architectural riverboat tour and a professionals’ breakfast to network with designers and manufacturers. “I’m proud of the willingness of the professionals to participate,” he said. “They even make special times for the students to visit their showrooms.”

In 1982, Ricchio Design was established as a Seal Beach-based design consultancy working in a variety of design disciplines including product, graphic and furniture design.

Joe Ricchio
Joe Ricchio

Ricchio Design has worked with major contract furniture manufacturers in the United States such as Arcadia, Geiger, HBF, ICF, Izzy, Knoll, MTS and Peter Pepper Products. Ricchio’s work has been seen in Contract and Interior Design magazines. He has received numerous design awards such as the Roscoe Award, IBD Product Design Award, IDSA Design Excellence Award and multiple Best of NeoCon Awards. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial design from CSULB in 1980.

I believe our students will get an aesthetic boost by participating in the NeoCon World Trade Fair,” he said. “Along with aesthetics, the show will also allow the students to discuss both engineering and production processes with the manufacturers present. I can tell the serious students by the way they get down on their hands and knees to examine the furniture from every angle. The reason I know this, is I do it all the time.”

Despite having visited the NeoCon World Trade Fair for a quarter century, he still gets excited by what he sees. “Every two or three years, I see a piece that makes me wince because I wish I’d designed it,” he said. “The furniture designers of NeoCon are a great group of people. We have all known each other for years. There is a great camaraderie amongst us; we have become a family.”

His organization and fundraising for the NeoCon trip represents a big commitment of his time and energy. Why does he do it?

“This is my way of giving back to CSULB,” he explained. “I enjoyed the Cortona Design Retreat very much but after six years it had reached its natural end. There was a lot of preparation,” he recalled. “The Chicago trip is a much simpler effort.”

For Ricchio, it all comes down to sharing. “In the end, this kind of project is good for your soul. It’s about sharing the experience and the knowledge. It’s about paying it forward. The full effect may not be felt for years until the students’ maturity catches up with their experience. It will be an experience not to be forgotten.”

–Richard Manly