Thu, Jun 01, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Design Week eats itself

Why spend big bucks on a designer table that lookslike a wine crate, when a real one is a fraction of the cost?

By Linda Matchan  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Nolan Niu with his Zero chaise lounge 2006, right, and the Eames Chair, which this year celebrates it's 50th anniversary.

PHOTOS: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

It was just a day after Paul McCartney's marital woes went public, but the news seemed irrelevant at a party at his daughter Stella's trendy boutique in the Meatpacking District.

"It didn't come up once," says Abe Gurko, an event producer who helped coordinate the lively soiree at the Stella McCartney store.

That's because the party -- and much of New York -- was all about celebrating design during the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which wrapped last week. The center of attention at the party (in the absence of Stella) was her designista husband, Alasdhair Willis, CEO of Established & Sons, a British furniture company making its US debut at the fair. Party guests had a sneak peak at the collection, since a few pieces, including an arty US$7,600 boomerang-shaped polyurethane bench, were interspersed amid the racks of Stella McCartney cashmere cardigans. Not that you could easily spot the furniture in the sea of partygoers, who were using some of the pieces as repositories for beer bottles, others as props for revelry.

But why wouldn't there be levity? The ICFF, a showcase of innovative home design held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, aspires to be the design world equivalent of Fashion Week. And as Design Week becomes more robust, "New York is becoming a little more exciting in terms of the [home furnishings] design industry," says Gurko. "In terms of key markets, there is Milan, and then comes London, and then comes Cologne, and then comes Paris, and then Tokyo, and then New York. But it is definitely moving up a notch."

At the main event at the Javits Center, there were nearly 600 exhibitors from 31 countries, from South Korea to Slovenia, which for a small country exhibited what was arguably the biggest piece of furniture -- a 5.2m, US$65,000 sofa shaped like an inverted satellite dish, large enough to fit 40 people.

If there was a theme at Design Week, it was that material, more than form, was dictating design. There were all sorts of new materials and new uses of old materials, and plenty of artistic statements about the value of using old designs in fresh ways. The word "sustainable" was heard so often it rivaled the tired "iconic," only the kinds of things being sustained were sometimes unexpected.

For example, loose change. Vermont designer Johnny Swing, who believes that everyday objects "shouldn't be limited to their utilitarian purposes," displayed a contoured couch fashioned from about 7,000 welded nickels, which cost US$350 in materials to produce, "but that has nothing to do with the final price," he says. (It retails for US$51,000.)

Or corrugated cardboard, which turns out to have "amazing properties," according to Josh Levy of Levy Design & Manu-facturing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Among them are a "subtle geometry of form," which inspired his US$494 coffee table that can be used vertically or horizontally, doubling as a wine rack.

A breathtaking collection came from Odegard, the high-end rug company that has branched into high-end furniture, included chairs from India made of reclaimed teak overlayed with hand-hammered copper.

For reasons unknown, no less than three design firms came up with the same fairly esoteric idea -- collecting scraps of wood, sanding them down, binding them together, and declaring them a stool or coffee table. Bill Hilgendorf of Uhuru Design exhibited his version as part of a Brooklyn Design Week installation, bound together with bicycle rims. "I couldn't bear to throw the wood out because it was too nice," he says.

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