Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Report from ICFF 2008

The ICFF, which we attended on Monday, is such an educational show. Not only do you get to see 99% of all the furniture and home accessories that will appear in shelter magazines over the next year. But even better you get to look UP CLOSE at the work, because in terms of craftsmanship, things that look good in print don't always hold up in person.

I like to check out the joinery and finishing with my fingertips, and examine the undersides for construction details. (Sloppy gluing is such a total deal-breaker for me, no matter how clever the design). And besides, you can't really judge a chair until you've sat in it.

In terms of trends, as we saw at Bklyn Designs, it was very obvious that as buyers crave more and more "green" product these days, designers are greenwashing like mad. Tell me, what is ecological about using materials like polyurethane, synthetic resin, styrofoam, acrylic, or exotic wood? Many designers using such materials are also claiming, rather dubiously, to be green.

Fortunately, there is also a good deal of work that's honestly eco-conscious, and that work stands out, often because they're the ones who have been green from their inception and as a result are the least noisy about their greenness. And hopefully the phonies will move on soon enough.

Also, eco-friendly or not, I noticed a great deal of wood-themed work in this show (more so than last year) and I don't mean furniture made from cherry or plyboo. I mean work using the aesthetic of wood grain and bark. For instance, CP Lighting is doing acrylic lights printed to look like tree bark (shown left), Brent Comber is making furniture that highlights the grain ends of logs (and I saw some, er, interpretations of his work in a couple other booths too), SMC Furnishings (highlighted below) is also very raw-wood oriented, and generally wood grain continues to be a big decorative motif everywhere.

All this woody-wood aesthetic, which I love in some places and find gimmicky in others, makes me wonder: how long with the appeal last? Will it start looking tacky, like it did after a similar rage in the 70s? Or do we now live in such a nature-starved society that highly articulated woodgrain and the wood-rendered-in-plastic thing will sustain? Hmmm...

So, what caught my eye? Well, as seems to be par for the course, the British exhibitors scored high in interesting booth design and amazing, tactile, craft-infused work. But there was plenty of good work to be found among the American and other international designers throughout the show as well. Here are some highlights:

(Note: I didn't shoot my own pics this time, figuring I'd be able to get them from the designer's website. Not so in all cases. Lesson learned.)

Stitching bits of fabric to floral wall paper, British designer-maker Claire Coles creates incredibly interesting and beautiful wall coverings and brooches. She also makes delicate unglazed porcelain teacups detailed with actual stitching or fabric. Very labor intensive, very well-executed, very appealing.

Another British artist, Miranda Meilleur's palm-sized bowls made from thin pieces of matted silver were totally atmospheric and lovely.

Furniture by SMC Furnishing, including their super comfortable and warm-looking May Lounge Chair featuring woven strips of suede or leather for the seat and back, and set at a very comfortable angle (not on their site yet). Based in upstate New York and using a lot of domestic and salvaged woods, and with a REAL commitment to environmentalism, these guys are ones to watch...

In their tiny booth, New York City Water Tower Furniture showed small tables and mirrors (and maybe more?) from, you guessed it, wood from old water towers. And they had the coolest give-away at the fair: their business card made from a chip of water tower with a magnet on the back. Rad.

Jae and I loved this elegant rocking chair by Philadelphia-based furniture maker Leslie Webb. Echoing the lines of a Morris chair but with about one-tenth the heft, it's comfortable, airy, and lovely. I want one.

We also loved the Hida Collection by Enzo Mari. Italian-designed and Japanese-made by a company as old as the hills, this line of furniture is made of sugi wood that is light and easy to compress. The chairs are forgivingly comfortable, the dining table modern yet homey, and the craftsmanship overall very tight. Fantastic. (Images sourced here.)

Using metal from car bodies and leaving the paint just as it comes, Andrew of Brooklyn's Nine Stories Furniture makes killer coffee tables and end tables (that aren't on his site yet). When we came by the booth he had one overturned so people could admire his craftsmanship as well as his design. I wish more designers would do this -- I spend a lot of time at the ICFF on my hands and knees looking up into the undersides of tables...! (Image sourced here.)

Part of the Nine Stories collective, dform also showed interesting work at ICFF, with their luminous punch pattern lighting, made for very thin veneers of wood and fitted together with mathematical elegance.

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Images sourced from designer's website unless otherwise noted.

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