At the Interni talk in New York last week, Giulio Cappellini made an interesting point about contemporary design. He said, ‘The most beautiful shapes were done in the 50s and 60s; now it’s all about material, technology and quality.’
Still fairly new to the global design scene, New York Design Festival – otherwise known as NYCxDESIGN – returned for its fourth installment this month. Running almost parallel to Frieze New York, the two-week event was centred around a handful of trade and public exhibitions on the lower west side of Manhattan, coupled with a series of showroom events in the Soho district.
Taking over one of the main exhibition halls inside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) has been leading the New York design scene for many years. In fact the show started even before NYCxDESIGN when it was first introduced to the city in 1988.
Remaining a traditional trade fair, ICFF offered a real mix of designers and brands this year. While it was encouraging to see the likes of Tom Dixon, Case Furniture, Ercol and Anglepoise flying the Great British flag at the show, their North American counterparts were the ones that really took the limelight this year. New York-based Matter took on the European look and made it modern for Downtown Manhattan, while Rich Brilliant Willing re-defined luxury with its new lighting collections by David Rockwell. Bernhardt Design introduced not only its new Mellow sofa by Océane Delain, but also six new designs by students from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Meanwhile, less than a mile away, WantedDesign – now in its sixth year – returned to the 19th Century built Terminal Stores in West Chelsea. With a totally different feel from ICFF, WantedDesign focused on a range of independent designers and young graduates. It was evident that the quality of work varied from stand to stand, yet the show did deliver some of the best content coming out of the festival.
The exhibition, ‘A Few Good Things: New Designs from Norway’, was dedicated to the work of 10 Norwegian designers, exploring the relationship between sustainability and modern design; from the light-toned Vei tableware by Sara Skotte, to the cast-iron Ildhane candleholder by Anderssen and Voll, and mid-century inspired Monstera cold-forged cutlery by Lars Beller Fjetland.
And from Norway to The Netherlands, WantedDesign also invited Ventura Projects to create a special edition looking at the new generation of Dutch designers. Going beyond technology and natural processes, Daniel de Bruin was fascinated by the relationship between the two. The designer brought with him the world’s first mechanical 3D printer which produced artisanal clay pottery. The resulting objects were primitive yet poetic, striking the perfect balance between control and chance. Similarly, with a strong interest in exploring cultural heritage through contemporary design, Siba Sahabi used felt to craft a series of sculptural vessels that played with the perception of surfaces and structures.
Just a stone’s throw from WantedDesign, designjunction returned to Chelsea’s ArtBeam studio and partnered with LA-based Dwell on Design to produce their first collaborative show. Dwell magazine took charge of the three-day talks programme, while WeWork and Muuto created a co-working hub completed with bright coloured acoustic booths by Studio Bricks. And if those weren’t enough, food company Sabra set up a one-day pop-up laboratory named ‘Traces: The Unofficial Meal’. This interactive experience encouraged participants to eat with their hands whilst collectively creating an abstract piece of edible ‘painting’ on the table.
Perhaps one show that could have given the others a run for their money was Sight Unseen Offsite. This year the show took over the 15th floor of the Grace Building in Midtown, right by Bryant Park. The overall aesthetic was consistent as demonstrated by a range of designers and makers who were carefully selected by show founders and magazine editors, Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer. Key themes that stood out ranged from Memphis-inspired graphic patterns, to pastel coloured objects and marble and brass furniture.
So did we see anything new at NYCxDESIGN? Perhaps not. The festival is still growing – not just by size but also by content. It didn’t set out to rival Milan, Paris or London, at least not right now. But why should it? The city is filled with energy and creativity, and it’s exciting to see many young designers – especially from the States – come together to showcase their work and celebrate design in a relatively new market. As Giulio Cappellini and his fellow panelists, Piero Lissoni and Nasir Kassamali put it last week, modern technology makes design more accessible and empowers individuals to appreciate it more, and that’s exactly what’s happening across the pond right now.