In New York, design blooms in May. May 18 marked the kick-off of Design Week and the four-day International Contemporary Furniture Fair. If there was a single standout moment at this year's fair it was the launch of Axor's new product line designed by the Bouroullec brothers. It's revolutionary and beautiful, which cannot be said of all things new or all things beautiful for that matter. While ICFF pales in comparison to Milan's Salone del Mobile as design fairs go, there were a number of noteworthy products on view within the massive halls of t he Javits convention center. I was struck by what appeared to be the shrinkage of furniture in favor of other goods and an increase in exhibitors from abroad. It was for me, all about the B's this year. The Bouroullecs of Brittany; the British invasion, with more English companies showing up this year than ever before, and the bright lights of the future, energetic design students who hope to someday make it big. The last 'B' and one close to my heart is Brooklyn, that rare place in America were things are still made by hand. Here are some highlights from this year's fair.
Best in show: Axor Bouroullec
Another beautiful collection of bathroom products, you say. Not so. Axor Bouroullec is revolutionary and distinctive. What makes the line so special is the material of the washbasins, a mineral cast of ¾ marble and ¼ acrylic, which accounts for its beautiful luster finish, allows for its soft shapes, and makes it resilient to stubborn stains. To this mix, you add the Bouroullecs and you get a collection that is designed for end user to make of it what they want; a wholly customizable product line with endless possibilities, hence the tag line "Feel Free to Compose". With more than 40 products in the collection and the position of the faucet and handles left up to the customer to decide, Axor Bouroullec is the ultimate bathroom collection.
Best student work: School and Individual
The Cranbrook Academy of Art scooped the ICFF Editors Award for best design school, and rightly so. In conjunction with Herman Miller, the Cranbrook students tackled a timely topic: emerging challenges in the workplace. With more people than ever on the move these days, the idea of the workplace takes on a whole new meaning. An over-scaled rocker designed by Kyle Fleet (pictured here) creates a private haven within a chair, and in doing so it blurs the distinction between the realms of furniture and architecture. Also notable was the Seven Stumps chair, designed by Rosalie Wild an industrial design student at the California College of the Arts. A runner-up in the 2012 Wilsonart Challenge, which asks students to design a chair featuring its woodgrain plastic laminate material, Seven Stumps is an "organically modular seating display" that is remarkably flexible and easily transforms from a sculptural object to seating of different types to display tables. These products speak to the future of furniture, which may be defined by objects that are non-conformist, difficult to categorize, and easily transformable to serve multiple functions.
British Invasion: Dixon, Mullen, Hilton, and Plumen
Happily, ICFF upped its game this year, becoming more international in flavor. If numbers are what interests you, there were 535 exhibitors in all, 171 fist timers, 310 from the U.S. and 225 from 33 other countries. Of these, the British were there in droves, with 59 companies exhibiting, 12 of which were newcomers. Of particular note was Tom Dixon's London Underground, its first satellite show in the USA, which "injected a slice of London innovation into New York's Design Week." Dixon took over the darkened basement of the Bleeker Street theatre in the NoHo district and really lit things up with their newest lighting fresh from Milan Design week.
Taking the ICFF Editors Award for Best Accessories this year was Northumbria University's Designers in Residence Tools for Everyday Living; simply riveting aptly describes the many objects in the collection where copper rivets were a motif. The lovely Charlene Mullen exhibited a rich mix of patterned pillows and blankets, wall coverings and roller shades, some of which paid homage to favourite London sites. While not British, the New York company Trove paid homage to royal queens around the world with its "queen wallpaper" series launched just in time for the Diamond Jubilee.
Speaking of Charlene Mullen, she is part of a group of designers represented by De La Espada, a groundbreaking firm in the business of developing powerful brands. Founded by the Luis De Oliveira and Fatima De La Espada, the company made its mark in London, opening a contemporary furniture store in 1996 when there was comparatively little quality contemporary furniture in the city. De La Espada does well at design fairs and this year's ICFF was no exception. It cooped the ICFF Editors Award for Best Furniture. Included in De La Espada's brands are Autoban Soren Rose, and the British designers Matthew Hilton and Benjamin Hubert.
British company Plumen made its American debut at ICFF this year with its CLF bulbs, which will hit U.S. stores soon. Billed as the "world's first energy efficient 'designer' light bulb" their beauty is in their simplicity
Good Design on the Cheap: Blu Dot
There is something to be said of designers who endeavour to get good products in the hands of many. Ikea was the trailblazer in this department. The Minneapolis-based company Blu Dot is giving them a run for their money, upping the design bar and craftsmanship and delivering the best, low-cost furniture at the fair with its Hot Mesh chair, which can be had for under $100. Blu Dot also debuted the Copper Real Good chair, which, while not new per se, is a fashionable metallic redoux of its popular Real Good chair. Metallic materials are on trend this year and they were everywhere at this year's fair.
Brooklyn in the House: Helfand and Wilder
Last but not least is Brooklyn New York, which was well represented at ICFF. Among the local stars were Aimee Wilder and Amy Helfand, the later of whom took home the ICFF Editors Award for her fine hand-knotted carpets and tapestries like the carpet featured here dubbed This Moment 2012.