A Decade Of Influential Designers

High Point Market Style Spotters celebrate their 10th anniversary

It was the summer of 2011. Pinterest was just about to move from its founder’s small apartment to its first real office. Designers were already excited about the potential of this new, picture-oriented social media platform. Cheminne Taylor-Smith, then vice president of marketing for the High Point Market Authority had a thought, “Could we use Pinterest to show off the hottest trends of Fall Market?”

Unfortunately for Taylor-Smith, if “we” meant the Market Authority, we could not. “We had to be very careful not to favor one exhibitor over another, and even if we didn’t have to remain neutral, the Market Authority team just didn’t have the bandwidth to select all of the trend-defining products of the season. We were also trying to attract more interior designers and influencers to Market. Combining the two goals opened the possibility of asking design bloggers to be the neutral experts who could find and share the most gorgeous and cutting-edge products. That’s how the Style Spotters were born.”

"It was strategy mixed with a little serendipity. We had no idea that Pinterest would blow up the way it did just a few months later. That made us look much smarter than we were," Taylor-Smith laughs.

To find their experts, the Market Authority searched out the most popular design bloggers in America, the ones with the biggest social media followings. They also wanted to present home furnishings trends from a variety of perspectives, so they looked for people from different regions, who favored different styles, and wrote for different audiences.

The first team featured five designers: Tobi Fairly, Elaine Williamson, Julieann Covino, Wanda Horton and Lisa Mende. Meg Biram brought her unique contemporary artist’s perspective. Lifestyle blogger Heather Clawson added her Habitually Chic aesthetic. From Canada, Jennifer Brouwer and Lisa Ferguson added an international touch.

“Those early teams not only faced the challenges of finding 25 on-trend products,” said Ashley Grigg, the Market Authority’s current marketing director, “We also needed to make sure their finds got as much attention as possible. So, we set up a competition to see who could generate the most likes and shares.”

“The competition was cutthroat,” said 2013 Style Spotter Kelly Kole, partner in the Atlanta design firm Kandrac and Kole. “Some of us would get there early and race through the showrooms to get our 25 picks in before the others arrived.”

“Yeah,” said her partner Joann Kandrac with a laugh, “Kelly’s not real competitive.”

Take a deeper dive

“They faced other problems that were unique to that time, as well,” Grigg continues. “Many exhibitors would only allow retail buyers into their showrooms, and most did not let you take photos, especially if you were going to post them to the internet.”

Julieann Covino, Jace Interiors (2011)

“Back then,” said Julieann Covino of Jace Interiors, a member of the first Style Spotters team, “manufacturers were just beginning to understand the power of designers and their social media influence. There were a few occasions where we spotted something fabulous but were not allowed to put our tent card on the item!”

Julia Buckingham, creative director and founder, Julia Buckingham Interiors (2012)

For all the hitches, many of those early interactions were very positive. 2012 Style Spotter Julia Buckingham, creative director and founder of Julia Buckingham Interiors, recalls “No vendors had heard of the Style Spotters. In addition to alerting them that they had been spotted, I had to explain the entire concept and how it was a very good thing! It was charming to see their reactions to being selected when they really were not expecting anything of this sort to happen.”

Buoyed by the positive interactions, the fun of sharing their takes on the latest trends, and the camaraderie of their fellow Style Spotters, the early teams persevered. Exhibitors started working with designers more and more. Social media became recognized as a powerful marketing medium, and exhibitors started to like seeing pictures of their products celebrated on the internet.

Mitzi Beach, ASID, CAPS, Founder, Mitzi Beach Designs (2014)

“Personally and professionally, the priceless benefit was the relationships with my fellow Style Spotters that remain to this day."

As the program grew in popularity, it was recognized for breaking new ground in influencer marketing. In 2012 and 2014, Style Spotters was recognized with an E.X.C.I.T.E. Award for Best Use of Social Media. Plus, social media and branding experts such as HubSpot, HuffPost, Social Media Examiner, Contently, and Social Fresh touted the program as a unique way to take advantage of the brand building power of Pinterest.

In 2014, Mona Delia, the marketing director who succeeded Taylor-Smith, expanded the program by adding the “Style Spotters LIVE!” event. Held on the Tuesday morning of Market, this panel discussion gives guests their first look at the most important trends of the new season, as seen by the Style Spotters. Following the event, Style Spotters lead guests on special tours of their favorite showrooms.

Arianne Bellizaire, Founder, Arianne Bellizaire Interiors (2015)

"My experience as a 2015 High Point Style Spotter was one of the highlights of my career … a shared bonding experience with some of the most talented designers in North America”

Deciding to emphasize the program’s collegial aspects, the Market Authority chose to end the competition for likes and shares in 2014. Michelle Wiebe, who had demonstrated her mastery of the program by garnering the most likes and shares at both Spring and Fall Market in 2013, agreed to serve as the first Style Spotter Emeritus. In this role, she guided the program from 2014 through 2018. She assisted in choosing the teams, and then mentored them through all aspects of being a Style Spotter, from making their picks through writing their Preview and Style Report articles. In addition, she served as moderator for “Style Spotters LIVE!” at each Market.

Michelle Wiebe, Style Spotter Emeritus, 2014-2018

“The camaraderie of the teams, the opportunity to build relationships within our profession and with exhibitors, as well as the sheer fun of finding and talking about the hottest products at Market, was exceptionally rewarding,” said Wiebe, founder, president, and principal designer at Studio M Inc., based in Tampa Bay, Florida. “My role as Style Spotter Emeritus was truly a highlight of my career, and I am so thankful to have had this opportunity. It was with a heavy heart that I resigned in 2018 to pursue other career goals. So many of the relationships have developed into cherished lifelong friends. I will forever have a special place in my heart for High Point Market and still look forward to attending for years and even decades to come!”

Marie Flanigan, Founder, Marie Flanigan Interiors (2016)

“When we are surrounded by creatives, we feed off each other’s energy leading to inventive ideas and dreams … I left invigorated, ready to bring my experience to my clients.”

Two Style Spotters stepped up to take Wiebe’s place. Shay Geyer, owner of IBB Design Fine Furnishings and member of the 2012 team, joined Gary Inman, president of Gary Inman Interior Design, designer in residence at High Point University and member of the 2014 team, to co-lead as Style Spotters Advisors.

Gary Inman, Style Spotters Advisor, 2018-Present

“Being a Style Spotter was a turning point in my career,” says Inman. “It not only raises your profile as a designer, it introduces you to some of the very best people working in our profession today. I was thrilled to return in this advisory role, just for the opportunity to meet and work with people of this caliber.”

Shay Geyer, Style Spotters Advisor, 2018-Present

Geyer agrees, “The Style Spotters are not just leaders in the field of design, they are people who share their love of this profession with their extensive social media followings. I am always inspired by each new team, and I cherish the relationships I’ve built through this program.”

The Style Spotters faced a major challenge in 2020. With the global pandemic causing the first cancellation of Market since World War II, there was no opportunity to visit Spring Market showrooms. Fall Market operated on an extended, nine-day schedule, but travel restrictions and concerns kept many regular Market attendees at home.

Undaunted, the 2020 team forged ahead. Operating from a totally virtual platform, they held the Spring Market edition of “Style Spotters LIVE!” via Zoom. Then, for Fall Market, those who could travel came to scout the showrooms while those who couldn’t relied on digital resources to produce the Fall 2020 preview article and Winter/Spring 2021 Style Report. In November, everyone got together again via Zoom for “Style Spotters LIVE!”

Victoria Sanchez, ASID, IFDA, NCIDQ, Founder of Victoria at Home (2020)

“Participating in Style Spotters was more rewarding than I could have imagined,” said Victoria Sanchez of her experience on the 2020 team. “Although it was virtual due to COVID, it was just what we needed to connect with High Point and share our picks with all those who couldn’t make it! Bravo, High Point!”

Bravo indeed, not just to the 2020 team, but to all of the people who have contributed to this remarkable program. Starting as just an intriguing idea about a possible use for a new social media platform, it was quickly recognized as an exemplary innovation in influencer marketing. A source of connections and lifelong friendships for its participants, its spring and fall previews, “Style Spotters LIVE!” events, and Winter and Summer Style Reports are a much loved source of inspiration before, during and after Market. A program that even exhibitors didn’t quite understand in its early years became a force that even a global pandemic couldn’t stop.

Rachel Moriarty, Interior Designer, RM Interiors (2020)

“It was an absolute honor to share the latest market trends with my colleagues and media through my Maximalist lens, especially in 2020!”

As we look toward the Style Spotters second decade, Inman and Geyer will lead their teams in an exciting new direction. “The program was started to show people the emerging trends at Market,” said Geyer, “and new directions in style will always be part of the story. But there is so much more to High Point — and to design — than what’s new and what’s next. There are fabulous stories about what goes into the products you see, from innovative materials and sustainable sourcing and manufacturing techniques to exceptional craftsmanship and amazing artistry. There are also the showrooms that each of us has on our must-see list, and the stories of why and how those exhibitors became our go-to resources. We want to tell all of these stories.”

Don Ricardo Massenburg, Founder, DESiGN iNKREDiBLE (2020)

“Thank you to the Style Spotters program for rolling out the red carpet... This program is a great way to spotlight designers and products.”

“High Point Market is such a rich and multilayered experience,” said Inman. “I have been coming here twice each year throughout my career. There is always something new to discover, even in the showrooms I’ve been visiting for years. It may be an amazing new finish, a beautiful twist on a timeless design, a totally new way of thinking about a piece, a new combination of cultural influences, or the revival of some marvelous traditional technique. As we move forward, we are opening up the program to embrace all that Market has to offer. Now, you will hear each Style Spotter share the richness and joy of the High Point experience by telling the stories that inspired and delighted them most.”

Eric M. Haydel, MSIA, Allied ASID, Principal - Creative Director, Eric Haydel Design/ The M-Geough Company (2019)

For someone who loves the behind the scenes, this is truly a great program."

Fall Market will celebrate the return to in-person programming with both Style Spotters Hot Spot Tours (details coming soon!) and Style Spotters LIVE!, scheduled for Tuesday, October 19, at 9am, with a complimentary breakfast starting at 8:30am. As our guests' first opportunity to see and hear the most exciting and inspiring stories of the season, we expect this already popular event to fill up quickly. If you’d like to attend, please RSVP.