These days, Terry Crews is best known for playing Terry Jeffords, the chiseled police sergeant with a soft side on the sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Which is why it’s both enthralling and somewhat jarring to hear him enthusiastically recount his trip to the design world’s most celebrated fair.
“Going to Milan [for Salone del Mobile], I was floored by the possibilities of what design could do,” he told Co.Design. “I thought, this is true creativity. This is not about competition. It’s about creating something that has never been done before.”
The NFL player-turned-actor, as it turns out, is also a real design buff–a passion that stretches back to his college education in graphic design. His trip to Milan was as a patron to designer Ini Archibong, with whom he struck up a mentorship over a decade ago. Last year, Crews cofounded a design label along with fashion designer Nana Boateng, Amen&Amen, for which Archibong’s work was the debut collection.Now, Crews’s design credentials are expanding beyond his supporting role. With a new furniture collection produced by Bernhardt, released just in time for NYCxDesign this week, he is an emerging designer in his own right. Inspired by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, the pieces play on organic forms like lily pads and the smooth stones of the Nile River.
The collaboration is part of an ongoing Bernhardt initiative to work with people outside of the design world, which this May has also culminated in collaborations with Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia and musician Tift Merrill. Jerry Helling, Bernhardt’s president and creative director, describes these collaborations as a way to tap into a “sense of passion and enthusiasm when you’re doing something new for the first time.”With Crews, he certainly found someone with that sense of fervor, and with a long but atypical experience in the art and design worlds. I talked with Crews about his new collection, keeping a design practice as a side project, and finding his own unique approach to design.
“I SAW NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING AN ATHLETE AND BEING AN ARTIST”
For a novice in the industrial design world, Crews has a wide and varied design past. As a kid, he loved sketching and doing illustrations, which is still a hobby of his today. In the late 1980s, he went to college on an art scholarship at Western Michigan University–a school with a legacy of graphic design greatness–and became interested in type and graphic design. Long before wanting to be an actor, he envisioned a career in designing movie posters like Drew Struzan, the designer behind the posters for movies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. When Crews walked onto the University football team, he was the only athlete he knew who was studying art.
In 1991, he left college for the NFL just 12 credits shy of his art degree, but kept up the practice. Between getting cut from one team and joining a new one, he would paint portraits for his fellow football players, charging $3,000-$4,000 a piece. He’s designed logos for rappers