The anchor event of NYCxDesign – the ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) – is more of a rambling marketplace than a design show these days, where an established audience of international buyers has turned it into a commercial enterprise specialising in selling booth space at the highest margins. Here, you’ll find Tom Dixon next to decorative skateboard decks designed by a Californian trust-funder or a collection of wrought-iron owls.
This year, the New Zealand furniture and lighting brand Resident, which has previously showed at the ICFF, went independent, leasing a 280-square-metre space in Nolita for the month of May to showcase both new and perennial pieces by founder Simon James, Jamie McLellan, Nat Cheshire and Philippe Malouin, who was simultaneously named the 2018 Wallpaper* Designer of the Year. Enormously well received by the American design media, the move laid the groundwork for a US market, and for James and co-founder Scott Bridgens to bring back the tightly edited show in 2019.
As important as designers and their intentions are, it’s also important who curates, and for whom, particularly in this progressive city, which is existing in a particularly tense political moment fraught with issues of money and power. Design, like any other creative endeavour, represents a point of view, with products becoming part of our everyday lives.
The work, and the way it’s presented, can change the dialogue. Resident’s distinctly New Zealand aesthetic looked bracingly modern next to the excesses of the goodie-bag-laden events going on around it.
The following five shows were similarly focused, posing questions about what design might instigate beyond a basic shifting of units off shelves: the answers ranged from community building, activism and sustainability, to uncovering undervalued narratives and creating new dialogue within artistic and design practices.
Designing Women II
The second edition of the Designing Women show curated by female-ownedand-run studio Egg Collective was co-curated by Lora Appleton, a rising force in the NYC design world. Appleton founded both design studio and gallery Kinder MODERN, and the Female Design Council, with the goal of supporting women in the still predominantly male industry.
‘Masters, Mavericks, Mavens’ was conceived as a conversation across time and space, and expanded its scope in 2018 to include historical figures. The result was a Who’s Who of trailblazing designers and an international roster including Swedish modernist Greta Magnusson Grossman, fibre artist and Eero Saarinen collaborator Lilian Holm, the Tbilisi-based product design studio Rooms, Korean-American artist Mimi Jung and object designer Sabine Marcelis, a Rotterdam-based New Zealand expat.
Founded in 2011, Wanted Design’s agenda takes a different tack from most, partnering with international trade organisations and cultural institutions to curate work from design centres around the globe.
This year saw group installations from Brazil, Istanbul, Shanghai, Medellín and Mexico, and the Zero Waste Bistro, a pop-up by Helsinki-based Restaurant Nolla (nolla means zero), in a space furnished with sustainable pieces from Finnish Design Shop, Iittala and Artek.
Solo designers included Brooklyn-based New Zealander Richard Clarkson, who showed an elegant, low-slung new chair alongside his existing collection of lighting and small products for the home. And, at Wanted’s second location in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, French artist Camille Walala painted a seven-storey building with a Memphis-inspired mural.
Taking advantage of the energy around the design festival – and a massive 550-square-metre retail space currently standing empty on Broadway – Next Level was a self-curated group show by 16 of the city’s leading independent designers and studios.
Organised by Asher Israelow Studio, Patrick Weder Design, Hart textiles, Here Projects and Eskayel on a dime and almost spontaneously when the space became available, the installation was nonetheless one of the most seamless and visually coherent shows of the whole festival, which is perhaps to be expected when designers become curators.
It shone a light on the already strong relationships, friendships and collaborations that underpin NYC’s creative ecosystem, where designers share resources, sources, suppliers and sometimes workspaces. Standout moments included Eskayel’s giant silk-and-merino hand-knotted rugs with symmetrical patterns reminiscent of a Rorschach test, and artist Molly Findlay’s ‘Mrs. Noodle Pillow’, a giant, yellow, sustainable-kapok filled noodle that can be infinitely configured for use as a comfy piece of furniture.
Sight Unseen Offsite
Every year since its inception in 2014, Sight Unseen Offsite has become more uniquely itself: an enthusiastic reinvention of every previously unpopular design era and colour imaginable (this year it was the turn of delicate coral pink and forest green), like a living Instagram feed where trend-led design, activism and brands cheerfully co-exist.
An extension of the online magazine founded by former i-D editors Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer, the show has waxed and waned in size to become ever more idiosyncratic, with its own highly specific aesthetic and a niche for youthful, contemporary American design talent.
This year featured installations sponsored by millennial ‘It’ brands such as Glossier, and a pastel-pink-andwhite mini piano co-designed by actor Jason Schwartzman with Los Angeles studio Wall for Apricots, one of 13 new products developed for Sight Unseen’s ‘Field Studies’ project, which raises money for progressive causes in the United States.
Furnishing Utopia began when 11 designers spent a week at a workshop at two Shaker villages in upstate New York and Massachusetts, resulting in a range of elegantly minimal products. Two years on, the collective includes 26 studios and the show has moved on from a purely Shaker aesthetic, yet retains its core philosophy.
‘Hands to Work’ focused on the realm of ordinary household chores and tools, exploring the virtues of focused work and cleanliness that Shakers considered the path to enlightenment. Curated by original Furnishing Utopia members Studio Gorm, Ladies & Gentlemen Studio and Christopher Specce, the exhibition contained 50 objects by international designers that turn domestic labour into something physically satisfying and pure.
Also worthy of note: Ladies & Gentlemen Studio was the first American designer to collaborate with Japanese brand Muji, creating the Muji Materials Garden for a SoHo pop-up. Connected by haptic stone pathways, the garden displayed products with the raw materials used to make them.
Above left Zero Waste Bistro, a pop-up by Helsinki’s Restaurant Nolla, was furnished with sustainable pieces from Finnish Design Shop, Iittalla and Artek.
Top An exhibition by Here Projects at Next Level.
Above ‘Mrs. Noodle Pillow’ by Molly Findlay is a playful response to the conventional sofa.
Top Funds raised by the sale of the mini piano, a collaboration between Jason Schwartzman and Wall for Apricots; the mirror (centre) by Christopher Stuart and Julia Dault; and the mirror by Seth Rogen (right), were donated to various causes.
Above A display by Furnishing Utopia in ‘Hands to Work’, a focus on humble household chores and tools.