ISFD names 1st recipient of Tom Conley Student Scholarship

The honoree is Penina Bernstein of Rhode Island School of Design’s 2-year MFA furniture design program

HIGH POINT — In recognition of Tom Conley’s dedication to the home furnishings industry, the International Society of Furniture Designers renamed their student scholarship in his honor. The first recipient of the ISFD Tom Conley Student Scholarship is Penina Bernstein of Rhode Island School of Design’s two-year MFA furniture design program, class of 2025.

“Penina is a remarkable and talented designer who has already produced an impressive body of work,” said David Blair,
executive director of ISFD. “After reviewing several applications, the committee selected Penina by acclamation. Comments about her
included, ‘Definitely,’ ‘Oh, yes,’ and ‘She’s amazing.’ We are proud to acknowledge her along with her outstanding work. We hope that this scholarship will continue to encourage her to pursue a furniture industry career and we look forward to seeing more from Penina in the future.”

Penina Bernstein

Bernstein’s journey as a furniture designer and maker is closely tied to her bachelor’s in fine arts degree from University of Pennsylvania. That background formed her approach to designing furniture and played a pivotal role in her interest in the field.

According to Bernstein, “I view furniture as functional art and am inspired by the infinite ways in which a maker can push the boundaries of sculpture and function. Creating objects that are both artistic and utilitarian is a source of pleasure and excitement for me. I constantly seek to find the ways in which a maker can walk the delicate tightrope of balancing form and function without
compromising either. In exploring the sculptural side of furniture design, I try to consider how elements like light and texture inform how a viewer perceives and engages with a piece of furniture.”

Bernstein shared that she believes continuing one’s education is a life-long endeavor and that she always relishes her time working in the woodshop. She is also the 2023 recipient of the Ruth Clark Scholarship for furniture design from the IFDA Educational Foundation. In addition, Bernstein received the Maker of The Year Award in 2021 from Australian Wood Review for her walnut and brass dining room table that she designed and built.  She placed in the top 25 in the world category and her piece was published in the December issue of both the print and online magazine. 

Conley is the past president and chief executive officer of the High Point Market Authority and a longtime board member and tireless advocate of ISFD. For over a decade he supported professional home furnishings product designers and the students who wanted to make a career in furnishings design. He always made facilitating student interaction a priority, knowing their experiences at market and with other industry notables could be an important launchpad for their careers.

The ISFD Scholarship was established in 2010 by the organization’s board of directors with the instrumental help of long-time members Richard and Catherine Frinier. Founded to support gifted student designers from schools across the country, the scholarship pays a $2,500 award in the fall semester.

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