Global village

This year, the ICFF was bigger and more international than ever, with sophisticated showings from such locations as Africa, Southeast Asia and Japan. Meanwhile, North American exhibitors rivaled European designers with refined takes on modern furniture classics and innovative new materials.

A sign of the increasing globalization of design, the non-Western presence among the 33 countries represented at the show was significant. One notable display by SoHo furniture gallery Amaridian showcased contemporary African designers. Their collection includes Malian Cheick Diallo’s graphically striking nylon lounge chairs, crafted by experienced weavers, and South African Ronel Jordaan’s handmade marbled grey felt cushions, shaped to resemble smooth pebbles. Thai lighting producer Ango used an unusual organic material – shell-like silkworm cocoons – to create a series of economically priced, glowing lamps. Japanese manufacturers were also scattered throughout the fair, with offerings ranging from ’70s-style acrylic chairs, tables and vases at Waazwiz to the Enzo Mari-designed, low-slung Sugi wood collection for Tokyo-headquartered manufacturer Hida.

Britain and Italy typically have a large presence at ICFF; this year, smaller European countries edged their way into the spotlight. 101% Designed in Brussels, which exhibits yearly in Milan, made its debut in New York with a booth showcasing five avant-garde firms from the region. Austrian designers literally took the stage in a raised display annexed to the regular space at the Jacob Javits Center, featuring young designers with prototypes for streamlined baby strollers alongside more established firms with clean-lined bar and kitchen systems.

North American designers held their own at this year’s fair, with a strong showing of well-detailed, contemporary classics in metal, glass, wood and leather. These ranged from Pablo’s elegant Nuve light, made of two polished aluminum disks equipped with high-efficiency LEDs, to an elegant line of chrome-and-glass lounge furniture by new Kansas-based manufacturer Sukhoi. At the New Design Canada booth, Stuart McQuarrie drew attention with his austere, minimalist Marisa chair – an impeccably crafted re-interpretation of the traditional ladder-back.

Another trend in the New York show was furniture adapted to living and working in compact spaces – a challenge all too familiar for apartment and condo dwellers. Mobile workstations, laptop stands that slip alongside a sofa and tables that convert from worktable to dining surface were among this fair’s innovations. An elegant proposal for small-space entertainment was a series of portable stovetops by Alno USA. The low-heat units can be clipped onto the side of a dining table to warm a fondue or stew, and folded away or stowed in a drawer afterwards.

Green design, prominent at ICFF in 2006, was more understated but equally crucial to this year’s fair, in which the lessons of sustainability were assimilated into aesthetically forward designs. Kirei board, made from reclaimed sorghum stalks, appeared in pieces such as Iannone Design’s Signature 2.0 cabinet and Todo Design’s Meshoush room divider. Both pieces have a graphic presence underlined by the material’s contrasting tones. Soft-grained bamboo plywood featured in a bassinet by Chui Min Kang, which is also sustainable as a design that outlasts its initial function – it converts into a toy bin and bookshelf for an infant, and a child-scaled table and chair. Recycled pop bottles enjoyed new life in the bold RD4 chair by Cohda Design, a standout in HauteGreen, an offsite show devoted to green products for the home. One hopes that these design advances will help popularize – and bring down the cost of innovative materials such as bamboo and sorghum board, which are currently expensive relative to non-certified wood.

Fuel for next year’s fair, a wave of new materials offered an expanded palette of choices both for designers going green – and those looking for flash. Textiles woven from soy and banana fibres, displayed by Delinear Rugs, have a silk-like sheen, and are soft as lamb’s wool. Woven patterns and end-grain panels are new additions to Durapalm’s line of hardwoods, collected from coconut trees past their productive age. Material sourcer Robin Reigi, who distributes Durapalm, also introduced new patterns for N2, her line of stunning lacquer inlay panels. Corian introduced a translucent version of its industry standby, in an installation that featured egg-like seats on a platform sculpted from the milky-white Illumination. Embedded blue LEDs and projected images of waves highlighted the material’s ability to reflect and transmit light. The immersive environment – a welcome respite from the hubbub of the fair – garnered the editor’s award for Best Booth Design.