Handmade furniture that is not for the timid
Feeling overcome — in the Javits Center of all places — by the passion artisans and craftspeople put into making high-end furniture and accessories
A few weeks ago, tired of seeing the same timid furnishings in magazine spreads and carefully done homes, I was excited to see some creative new pieces that lifted my spirits. Beautiful, handmade things can have that sort of effect.
There were loads of beautiful handmade objects at the recent International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at the Javits Center, where I prowled the smaller booths at the show. Why? Because that’s where you find the one-person operations, the newcomers and the companies too small to have marketing teams who are doing exciting and inventive things.
That’s where you get to meet the designers and catch a bit of the passion that goes into their work. You can talk to the people who dream up and, in many cases, make the furniture you sit on and eat at and store your things in — with their own hands. Let that sink in. Furnishings like this are special and moving in the same way that art can be — and worth their high prices. Here’s a small sampling of what I saw at the show.
The little things
One collection had a showstopping detail that was easy to overlook if you went by too quickly. Aardvark Interiors, based in Gowanus, Brooklyn, showed its debut furniture line, which featured segmented and splined corners. What’s the big deal? These corners —seen on its desks, dressers, mirrors and shelving — are done painstakingly by hand. As the company’s founder and lead designer, Jason Gandy, explained, he and his team need to be accurate to the hundredth of a degree. A great deal of attention also goes into creating the wood veneers to display a continuous grain. If you’ve ever drooled over the grain of a book-matched marble island, then you know this is something worth the price.
Chairs from Long Beach, California-based Eric Trine had an elegant-meets-casual vibe that I instantly coveted. My favorite was a simple leather and white-powder-coated metal sling chair with a brilliant detail on the back: a belt, complete with buckle and holes, which was adjustable.
I had my first heart-stopping moment at the booth that belonged to Cosmopolitan Glass of Brooklyn. There I saw an enormous shattered-glass table, designed by Lillian Gorbachincky; the shards had been sealed in and were glinting in the sunlight. It was like someone had dropped his iPhone, only much prettier. Gorbachincky, who is also president of the company, which does residential and commercial projects (you can see Cosmopolitan’s work on the Dior facade on Fifth Avenue), told me the table was inspired by “jewelry and diamonds.”
Nearby was Zilbers/Design out of Riga, Latvia.
(Yes, Latvia. Look it up on a map. It is sandwiched between Lithuania and Estonia. Oh, never mind.) The company creates lighting called Star Wrap out of synthetic paper that it packages by squashing and vacuum-sealing it until it’s flat. When the packages are open, the shades of the lamps fill out with beautiful, dreamy wrinkles, like crumpled linen. No two were exactly alike. If you can’t appreciate wrinkles, or favor a matchy look, move along.
Textile designer Ronel Jordaan of South Africa folds handmade pure wool felt into giant origami-like flowers. The effect is stunning — and practical as well, serving as soundproofing. The large flowers, with diameters of about 24 inches, come in more than 25 colors.
If real greenery with no fuss is more your thing, how about handpicked reindeer moss from the forest and mountain areas of northern Scandinavia? Who knew sourcing soundproofing materials could read like a scene from Nordic folklore? A trio of university students, twin brothers, Joris and Sander Oudendijk, and Oscar Pressfelt, started their company Nordgröna in 2014 at Lund University as a school project. They found the inherent abilities of Scandinavian reindeer moss — to filter air, absorb sound waves and remain maintenance-free — to be ideal. It does sound like a fairy tale.
Pendant lamps with wavy folds drew me to From the Source, a New York-based furniture and accessories company that’s committed to sustainability and social responsibility. These lampshades, handmade in Bali, hid a secret: They were made of white zippers, stitched together into a flexible, foldable shade, and they gave away their mystery only if you got very close.
I was intrigued by Jupiter, the round geodesic lighting fixture from Jason Krugman Studio. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at — it appeared to be lighting without a bulb. That’s because Jupiter, which won the Editor’s Choice Award for Best Decorative Lighting at ICFF, is made of gold-finished circuit boards with LED lighting (which several exhibitors at the show experimented with, in lighting and even wallpaper). The effect of Krugman’s piece was stunning and mysterious.