The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) is the biggest furniture show this side of Milan. And like its Italian rival, ICFF is closely watched by critics, who see it as a gauge of broader cultural trends.
For example, the glitzy 2000s correlated with escapism from political turmoil and war. The post-2008 fair was full of inexpensive, DIY projects, supposedly reflecting life after the recession. Last year, as the recovery took hold, critics saw a resurgence of excess and glamour.
In reality, the cycle of designing and manufacturing furniture doesn’t always match up perfectly with culture at large. But it’s still fun to try to connect them, even just a way to make sense of the dozens of parties, hundreds of objects, and thousands of sales reps.
So what did 2013 hold in store? Well, for one thing, it was the most unpretentious fair in recent memory. It incorporated smaller shows from outside Javits centre, like Wanted Design, which gave the whole thing the feeling of a big gallery walk. It was also hard to ignore the playfulness of it all, evinced by things like a super-minimal deck of cards, musical shower heads, gem-colored city bikes, and lights that you have to play with to turn on (check out our GIF below). It was delightfully void of any platitudes about culture at large or the economic climate -- instead, people celebrated objects either because of their simple intelligence, humour, or beauty. Sometimes, furniture is just furniture.
H-slm/f Chair by Marka Moderna
This chair by the Miami furniture manufacturer Marka Moderna strikes an interesting balance between retronostalgia (the Eames-like wire base) and contemporary details borrowed from aerospace engineering, like the fibreglass seat, which is folded from a single sheet of fibreglass.
The Welles Lamp
Handmade by a pair of Canadian designers who go by Gabriel Scott, these bauble-like lamps are part of a larger collection of furniture that's based on complex tessellated geometries.
Kohler Moxie Showerhead
Kohler's play for the youth market? The Moxie, a Bluetooth-enabled shower head that streams music for up to seven hours on a single charge.
The Tri Light by Aaron Leah
Tri Light is an interesting little piece of user experience. It doesn't have an on/off switch; rather, just lift the wood-encased light source up on its tripod base and it turns on, thanks ton a motion sensor. Set it back down to turn it off.
The Mini by OMA
"No one has ever improved upon the violin makers of Cremona over 300 years ago, and the same can be said for the professional audio equipment made for cinemas and studios in the 1930's through the 1950's," explains the designer behind OMA, a company that makes old-timey horn loaded loudspeakers, field coil and full range speakers, and tube amplifiers that stray perilously close to steampunk. But there's also an authenticity to these babies -- and it's hard to argue with the sound, which is rich and crisp.
Carlo Aiello's Parabola Chair
When I saw Carlo Aiello's Parabola Chair online last week, I shook my head. How could that seat, despite its charm, be comfortable? Or even usable? Well, I'm here to report: this graceful wireframe sculpture is very much a functioning chair.
Patrick Townsend's SuperString Series
These handmade lights are a quirky little play on traditional string lights. Rather than a proper wire of evenly-spaced bulbs, we get tangles of all shapes, sizes and colours of bulb -- all handmade in Long Island City, Queens.
Reps from Bike ID, the Swedish city bike company, were on hand to introduce the brand in the US. The single speed and cruiser alloy frames are pretty standard, but a crazy SRAM two-speed hub, which shifts gears automatically based on speed, makes it notable.
Iota by Joe Doucet
Joe Doucet's minimalist playing cards, which Gizmodo covered a few weeks ago, made their IRL debut at Wanted Design. The dramatically pared-down design might be too minimal for traditionalists, but they were well-worn by admirers by the time I arrived.
Baccic Glasses by Joe Doucet
Another solid contribution from Doucet, these dada-ist glasses seem normal enough -- until you realise there's no flat bottom to set them down. You either finish you drink, or you spill it. Your choice.
Molo Design is a pair of Vancouver architects who make furniture, wall dividers, and lamps out of a fire-retardant paper. The honeycomb structure they've developed folds flat like an accordion, but expands into a surprisingly structurally sound platform -- it can even support the weight of a human.
Symbol Audio's Stereo Console
Remember Symbol, the handcrafted audio designers Gizmodo's Adrian Covert profiled last year? This year, the trio were back with new products, including this beauty of a stereo console. The wood-embedded amplifier connects to three devices, plus stream music via a Bluetooth connection. The modular steel body lets you customise what hangs below the amp with extras like an LP bin or extra gear storage.
Clamp Mini by Dana Cannam
Dana Cannam's popular Clamp lamp, which lets users adjust the height of the light by strapping the cord around the post, was re-imagined as a desktop lamp and a floor light for ICFF.