In May John Aufderhaar and I, at the invitation of Interprint, attended ICFF, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City. It was not Milan, but in a way that is precisely the point. Not only is ICFF more accessible for most people living in North America, but most people living in North America actually, get this, live and work in North America. Let me explain. I often hear people reference the “design gap,” that is to say the time it takes fashion launched in Europe to trickle into North America. But after spending time at ICFF and various other venues during New York’s Design Week, I don’t buy into the idea that North American designers are sitting around waiting for the next big thing to arrive from Europe.
True Design has elements of anthropology and geography that cannot be imported wholesale. And creativity is not some sort of genetic trait found only in the European Union. Peter Garlington, Design Director for Interprint articulates this well. “Because Design Week in New York is domestic it speaks to North American trends and mind frame,” says Garlington. “The idea that there is a “design gap” in terms of European fashion is a myth. It is a selective difference in taste. North America is not slow. North America has different requirements due to manufacturing and cultural preferences. To think that Europe is the single source of all design is not true. Even within North America there are distinctly different sensibilities based on geography. We can’t keep grouping North America into a single design aesthetic. We need to pay attention to what is happening in design domestically.”
Garlington is what one might call an active developer, who takes end users into consideration and designs for their world, not a world an ocean away. Certainly there are global trends, but part of a designer’s job is to interpret those trends so that they make sense within the context where they are applied. So while the Salone Internazionale Del Mobile is undoubtedly a fantastic destination for design tourism, an international design event like ICFF hosted in North America is arguably more relevant. It is particularly interesting to observe how designers from Europe and South America portray their designs within the setting of New York City.
So enough hyperbole, what trends were at the fair? The focus on “contemporary” design came through in manufacturing and building techniques as much as in aesthetics. Here are a few observations:
Advances in lighting technology are allowing for both larger and smaller lamps.
-David D’Imperio Lighting, from Story Run, PA, exhibited several compelling linear lamps including Ozone, a 72” or 50” stainless steel exterior cluster fixture with silver anodized aluminum interior structure. LED technology is incorporated for dimmable light with minimal power consumption.
- Humanscale presented some amazing LED lamps including Symtra, an inspired contemporary interpretation of the archetypal lampshade form. Designed by Peter Stathis, an award-winning designer based in San Francisco, Symtra redefines beauty in a luminaire with its sleek lines and minimalist frame.
- Humanscale also showed a new lighting concept called “Halo” that operates via wireless power. The technology was displayed as a decorative wall sconce that operates with a hidden transmitter with no batteries or visible wire. The circular ring-like form is ideal for efficiently receiving wireless power, while the brass construction is both an effective heat sink and a graceful vehicle for the electronics and the LEDs. Hopefully Surface & Panel will cover this more in depth when the technology is officially launched, but after talking to the exhibitors I can hint that radio waves and magnets are involved.
A softening of edges when it comes to the sleek modern look.
- An example of this is the Odyssey sideboard by Vancouver-based Mario Sabljak. Made from chrome, laminate and plexiglass this piece, like many of the new modern genre, is sleek without being sharp and austere.
A return to craftsmanship in general, swinging back from the "make as many things, as cheaply and with as few man hours as possible" mentality. Some might even call it an “analog” or “LoFi” approach to design, but there is a distinct trend of people working to reclaim the level of craftsmanship that was commonplace prior to the industrial revolution. This is broadly true across many skill sets, from cabinetry to handicraft, clothes making and agriculture. This trend has roots in environmental awareness from the point of view of moving away from being heavy consumers of resources to being efficient, skilled producers.
- Architect Alexander Gendell of Manhattan, NY garnered a lot of attention for his hand-crafted Folditure chairs. Built from compact laminate, aluminum, piano hinges and mesh, Folditure chairs fold to 3/4'” at the push of a button. That’s right, four chairs can be stored in 3” of space.
Bright, bold wall coverings and corresponding solid color surfaces in trendier hues. Woodgrains trending toward the reclaimed/reused story with a vintage look of natural wear.
- This ain’t your grandma’s wallpaper. As these designs from Flat Vernacular based in Brooklyn, NY show, contemporary wallpaper is straight-forward and design-oriented. Many of the companies exhibiting also emphasized that their products were hand-drawn, hand-painted or hand silk-screened, again a return to the “maker” mentality.
- To complement the excitement of modern wall covering and the character of the vintage wood trend (which is less dramatic than the out-going, manipulated “distressed” style that has been around for a while) surfaces are in some ways becoming more demure. The Pittsfield, MA based décor paper printer Interprint exhibited in a penthouse suite at the Fashionable Shoreham Hotel. A recent product called Visual Perfect makes use of modern printing technology to print shorter runs of solid color décor saturating paper beautifully and evenly. This means that TFM and HPL producers can move beyond the conservative black, white, almond and primary, and explore trendier solid colors. Interprint also displayed new woodgrains.
Complete a questionnaire to receive a complimentary 1-year subscription to Surface & Panel, the only magazine focused exclusively on the design, manufacture and marketing of panel-based furniture and casegoods.
fill out the questionnaire