Wednesday 22 Jun 2011


In New York, design blooms in May. That's the time of design week and the annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair, a sort of serial dating affair between designers and makers.

Now in its 24th year, the four-day event, held each year at the Javits Center, puts on view "what's next and best in design" as thousands of designers troll the cavernous exhibition space looking for inspiration. As always, the usual suspects were there in droves - top, name brand companies like Berhnardt and Vitra that have the pr machinery and the financial might to put on a good show even in a gloomy economy. Sprinkled among the icons were a large number of startups, some of which, in sheer talent alone, could easily go head to head with their more established brethren. Each year the ICFF Editors convene to pick their favourites. Here are mine.

Top Crowd Pleasers: Scrapwood Wallpaper and Tom Dixon
On more than one occasion, I tried to croon my neck to see what the fuss was about at the busiest booths at the Fair. It's hard to believe that something that was "faux" anything could muster up so much attention. But a new wallpaper product by Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek that looks like salvaged wood was one of the hottest attractions at this year's show. Aptly named "Scrapwood" the wallpaper comes in six styles and costs $4.63 per square foot. Washable and made of FSC-certified wood it is easy to maintain and sustainable. If you like the rustic look this might be your ticket. Scrapwood took the ICFF Editor's Award for best wallpaper.

Another busy area at the show was, Tom Dixon's booth. It was large, well designed and packed with many new products. And it had the best giveaways. Dixon's Extremism book blew out 200 copies in 2 hours. And 700 Fluoro Orange bags, which were given away every four hours causing flash mobs, were handed out in a matter of minutes. Tom Dixon garnered the ICFF Editor's Award for Best Booth.

Well Connected: Clamp Lamp
Oft times the simplest things are also the most elegant. This was indeed true of a demure light fixture by Pablo named Clamp Lamp. Designed for simplicity and engineered for sustainability, the lamp combines the beauty and functionality of wood with the brilliance of LED technology. Through compression fit system, the lamp functions without unnecessary components, accounting for its spare expression. Its elegant arm can be easily adjusted up, down and rotated 360 degrees around the clamping post as it effortlessly grips to the edge of any table.

Ultimate Sitting Machine: Chassis Chair
Much as the German car manufacturer BMW has staked its claim on being the "Ultimate Driving Machine", German furniture maker Wilkhahn, has captured the spirit of automobile design in a new chair named Chassis that is equally at home in the boardroom, the dining room and workspaces. The multi-purpose chair does not just convey the elegance of a sports car- it is actually made like one. For the first time ever a chair frame has been produced with industrial frame technology. The seat and backrest frame are drawn from thin sheet metal and welded together with the legs by a robot, giving the chair a seamless fluidity. With its arresting appearance, sleek design and comfortable sit, Chassis is sure to become a classic.

Brooklyn's Finest: STAGG Table + Octavo
These days not much of anything is made in the USA. But as was evidenced at this year's ICFF, manufacturing is alive and well in Brooklyn, New York. Of the many things at this year's show that were made in Brooklyn, I was struck by the colorful and beautifully crafted STAGG table designed by Hooker & Co. Consisting of reclaimed tabletops available in five wood type and four lengths and powder coated bases that are available in 30 colours, the table conveys its former use though such things as knot holes, beetle infestation swathes and drill holes that have been retained in the materials in their regeneration as tables. Although there is nothing ground breaking about this table, it is premiated here for its sheer beauty and to raise awareness of Brooklyn as a manufacturing center.

Barely There: Trufig
Seeing is not always believing. It is sometimes distracting. That is the position adopted by Trufig, a revolutionary design solution that accommodates technology indiscreetly by camouflaging it. Trufig hides necessary devices as switches, power outlets, data jacks, keypads, volume controls, touch panels and speakers by mounting them flush into the wall or ceiling so there are no protrusions. Turfig fascias can be painted, faux-finished, wallpapered or laminated to blend with any existing condition.

Best Student Work: Danish Institute for Study Abroad
Student work was in abundance at ICFF this year. But the standout among these was work produced by American students at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, a seven-week summer program where students produce a prototype chair using the traditional Danish standards of craftsmanship and innovation. This chair by Sara Rowghani of Stanford University involves some serious bending to create.

Sharon Mc Hugh - US Correspondent