By Michael Adams
I first met Eric Engstrom when he paid a call to my small windowless office not long after I became editor of Hospitality Design. Eric’s outsize personality helped him fill every room he was in, so he had no problem dominating my digs at 770 Broadway. But he was instantly likable and we bonded that morning over a postcard of Audrey Hepburn pinned to my bulletin board, telling me that she was a special favorite of both his and his son Lars.
Over the next several years, Eric and I had many opportunities to continue the friendship. Our annual Summit was in its infancy, and Eric was there at the start, first as a delegate and then also as a cheerleader and a guide. Much of its success today is due to his input and advice.
I also got to know Eric the design expert by watching him lead the IIDA/HD Product Design Competition at our HD Expo for several years; while the panel rotated annually, Eric was the constant, and he performed a master class in what makes a hospitality product work, both aesthetically and practically, all the time demonstrating his keen sense of fairness and his keen sense of humor. I was thrilled several months ago when IIDA suggested naming the award’s Best of Competition in his honor.
I saw less of Eric after his retirement, but would keep up with his life and work through Facebook. He was an amazing artist as well as a designer (it was always a pleasure to publish his restaurants) and I loved to see that he was still taking beautiful photographs and exhibiting them successfully in various galleries.
When I learned he was ill, I knew he would face the challenges of cancer with his usual spirit and tenacity. It is to my everlasting regret that we weren’t able to connect at this year’s Expo, but he was well enough to tour the show and reunite with dozens of old friends, and I’m told he did it all with great joy.
His colleagues tell me that his health went into sharp decline after returning home from that trip, knowing perhaps that this had been his final farewell to an industry he loved so much and served so beautifully.
A mutual friend who visited him at his home several months ago told me that he referred to me as “one of the good guys.” It means more than I can say that he thought so, since I’ll always consider him as one of the very best.