Terry Crews has built his career playing the affable jock. The former defensive end/linebacker, who left the NFL in 1997 after playing for the L.A. Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins, has spent the past two decades in roles that subvert his chiseled physique, most recently as the tough sergeant with a soft underbelly on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He’s been a pitchman for Old Spice, a game show host for the syndicated Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and even the president of the United States in the cult classic (and possibly prescient) Mike Judge satire Idiocracy.
So it may be surprising to learn that Crews is also a design aficionado and artist — and he can now add patron to his multifaceted resume. Earlier this year Crews teamed with his longtime friend Ini Archibong to debut a collection of furnishings under Amen&Amen, the design label he started with fashion designer Nana Boateng at Milan’s prestigious design fair, Salone del Mobile. The sculptural collection of lamps and furniture, dubbed The Secret Garden and inspired by children’s fairy tales, features opulent materials including brass, marble and hand-blown glass.
Crews is bringing his passion for design to LA’s WestEdge Design Fair this week as one of the hosts of the opening night party on Nov. 3, a benefit for the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House. “L.A. is booming and just becoming more and more popular every day [for design],” says Crews. When the organizers asked him to host, he says he jumped at the chance: “This is my world. I’m home.”
While this may seem like a departure for Crews, it’s in fact the natural next step for a man who received an art scholarship to the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and once dreamed of becoming an animator for Disney. “I was always doodling and getting in trouble in class,” says Crews. “I had a vivid imagination.”
An art teacher encouraged his talent and submitted the young Crews for the scholarship without his knowledge. “I spent the summer studying with people from all over the world,” Crews says. “It opened me up to art and design.”
Crews combined his love of football and art by producing portraits of his fellow players in between seasons. He even worked as a courtroom sketch artist in his native Flint, Michigan. Early in his entertainment career, the actor became interested in the set design for movies he worked on, recalling his excitement when he got to meet production designer Wynn Thomas on the 1960s sitcom Get Smart. “He was the designer for Do the Right Thing. His sets were so beautiful,” Crews says.
Furniture design felt like a natural progression for Crews, who had been friends with Archibong for years and reconnected with him while Archibong was living in Switzerland. He gave the designer one directive: “Be as creative as possible,” while also pledging not to interfere in the process.
The result is a collection that includes Carrara marble-topped tables with colored glass legs, a curved settee upholstered with traditional West African batik prints and a striking lighting sculpture of hand-blown glass buds cascading from a marble disc. The pieces were well received by the design community, with Elle Decor citing Archibong as an emerging talent.
After making a splash in Milan at the Furniture Fair, Crews returned to L.A. invigorated. “Milan changed me in a lot of ways,” he reveals. “We tend to think each world is inaccessible. As an actor coming from football, you think, ‘This world will never accept me.’ But everyone was so welcoming.” Crews enjoyed 3 a.m. discussions about art with glassblowers and architects. “I’ve never been more excited in my life,” he says.
For Crews, who says there is nothing more satisfying than watching something move from idea to execution, the key to any creative endeavor is avoiding self-judgment. “We judge ourselves into mediocrity,” he says. The only downside? Since word got out that he bankrolled Archibong’s designs, he’s been fielding requests from friends and acquaintances looking for funding for other design projects.
For Crews, who grew up in the economically depressed town of Flint, the ability to impact his surroundings through design is crucial. “Every time I see something beautiful, it changes my life,” says Crews. “I’m addicted to beautiful things.”