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Cinde W. Ingram

Victoria Dawson focuses on fabrics, fashions

When Victoria Dawson finished design school in California 10 years ago, she wanted to be an interior designer. Only a few years later, she was happily designing products for outdoors.

Victoria Dawson with Relax Plus cushion

Victoria Dawson with Relax Plus cushion. Below, her Relax Plus cushions and Silhouette umbrella complete Lakeside deep seating group for Tropitone.

Relax Plus cushions and Silhouette umbrella complete Lakeside deep seating group for Tropitone

After working for a year on set design for ABC Studio's General Hospital show, Dawson started considering her options in product design. She began designing high-end contract and portable lighting, which led her to discover the home furnishings markets in High Point, N.C., Dallas and San Francisco. "I thought designing lamps was a big deal until I got into furniture," she said.

The contract side of the lamp business shrank back after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which led the lighting company she worked for to downsize. So she went to work for Minson Corporation, designing for its Mallin outdoor furniture and Pastel indoor furniture lines.

"I got to see two different sides of the High Point Market," Dawson said. "The furniture people don't even know the lighting people."

Although she enjoyed her work, the people she worked with, plus selecting fabrics and finishes for Pastel, Dawson left Minson to accept a tempting offer to work from home and design patio furniture for Bolo International, a direct importer. After a meeting in Arkansas with buyers for Lowe's and Wal-Mart, she traveled to Chicago to meet with other designers. While there, she heard Tropitone Furniture was hiring designers. Because she had learned of Tropitone through her work for Mallin, Dawson contacted the company to express her interest and was pleased that Peter Homestead, Tropitone's director of design, called her back right away.

"That's been three and a half years ago, four years in January, and there has never been a better fit for me, my career and my job," she said. She credited CEO Mike Echolds and Homestead for being able to recognize talents in workers that may not be obvious through experience.

Dawson was tapped to help develop Tropitone's Relax Plus cushion products, which are designed to closely resemble the look and feel of upholstered indoor cushions but also repel water and moisture. The cushion provides support and is covered with fabric that customers have described as having the feel of a down comforter, Dawson said.

"There's nothing better than hearing how excited people get over their furniture," Dawson said. "It was rewarding to see how really comfortable cushions made people happy. That was neat to go from concept to completion. And working for Tropitone itself — it's a family away from your family."

Her own family is growing. Dawson is expecting her second child in early October, but her excitement for that life event doesn't diminish what she feels designing. Hearing the buzz around Tropitone's booth at the Hospitality Design Expo "gets me inspired to raise the bar and be better next year," she said. "The contract market is refreshing. Whenever we design for HD or the Miami Hospitality Boutique show, we get to have so much fun. When they see Tropitone does bright green on black, they accept it even if they weren't looking for that."

Asked what she wishes she had known earlier in her career, Dawson laughed. "I wish I had known that product design is a dirty job," she said. Visiting factories where pieces of metal are being bent and cushions are sewn allows her to talk directly with the workers who are building products she designed. "It's interesting when you work alongside them," she said, "but you can't come in your best wardrobe."

Whenever she needs to recharge her creative spark, she turns to industry trade magazines or goes shopping. "Visiting any of the really high-end design boutiques in Beverly Hills, Melrose or Los Angeles or unique furniture stores," she said. "That's what gets me going again: Seeing what's possible and can be done."

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