A Day at the Fair

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Shopping with an interior designer for furniture is one thing. Ferreting out global trends with four local design pros is quite another. Sarasota Magazine did just that at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City last May, tagging along with an ASID professor, partners in a leading design firm and a retailer of […]


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Shopping with an interior designer for furniture is one thing. Ferreting out global trends with four local design pros is quite another. Sarasota Magazine did just that at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City last May, tagging along with an ASID professor, partners in a leading design firm and a retailer of classic Danish furniture.

Impressed that our savvy experts make the pilgrimage to ICFF every year, we watched and learned as they uncovered new sources, quizzed manufacturers and kicked the tires of conceptual products at what journalists describe as an international design bacchanalia. “I prefer to call it a smorgasbord of worldwide design,” says Marilyn Morgan of Sarasota—and she should know.

THE PROFESSOR

Morgan teaches a course called the History of Interior Design at the Ringling College of Art and Design. She’s written Modern Architecture, a tome used by architects and designers for continuing education credit to renew their licenses. Her master’s degree is from Columbia University’s School of Architectural Preservation and Planning. So what’s a history buff doing at a contemporary furniture show? She loves the stuff.

I quickly learned that extreme knowledge of the past uniquely qualifies Morgan to predict the fate of new designs. “Sit in that chair, it’s really comfortable,” she instructs as we approach Douglas Homer’s exhibit of futuristic-looking contraptions. “It’s a clever use of vintage chairs,” Morgan explains. Homer finds old Harry Bertoia chairs (designed for Knoll in the 1950s), fixes them up, powder coats the frames and ties on 2,500 sponge cords to create the whacked-out look. I love the chair and its witty name, Hairy Bertoia. Morgan tells me she bought a Baby Hairy Bertoia in yellow at last year’s show for her granddaughter. Hmmm, what’s 40 percent off a retail of $850?

Defying the maxim “those who can’t…teach,” Morgan is lead ASID designer for Sternberg Interiors. She came to ICFF armed with swatches from current jobs and a punch list of booths to visit. At Kinnasand, a favorite fabric source, we discovered a carpet line from Ruckstuhl of Switzerland. It combines soft and hard surfaces with alternating strips of sisal and flexible wood held together by zippers. “It’s great for a divorce,” quipped the representative. “Just unzip your half and carry it with you.”

Morgan lauded Amuneal’s new brand, 2, for its unique twists on classic furniture designs. She marveled at their “photo chairs,” with photographic images printed onto fabric that’s wrapped around the entire chair (including the frame). Any photo the client chooses can be applied. The display chairs featured a portrait of Leon Trotsky, boxers Jersey Joe Walker and Floyd Patterson, and children fleeing Bilbao during the Spanish Civil War—all around one table.

As we peruse Kenneth Cobonpue’s sculptural fiber furniture, Morgan says she might specify the dog crib—a work of art that changes the meaning of the dog house in my mind forever. Next she takes me to see David D’Imperio’s new high-tech lamps: a desk model called La Brea and various permutations of the curiously wiry Diadema. “I like to use D’Imperio lighting because it’s different—industrial, architectural and very well made,” she explains.

“I love the energy at ICFF,” Morgan concludes. She likes the hands-on approach, the fact that everyone is free to interact with really good contemporary furniture. “People are afraid of modern design because they don’t understand it,” she says. “They fall back on the idea that it is uncomfortable and cold, which is untrue.”

THE RETAILER

No one agrees with that philosophy more than Kim Nielsen, founder of dkVogue. His stores are showcases of mid-century Danish design, oozing with furniture that combines the best of both form and function.

Touring ICFF’s Danish pavilion, it’s hard to miss the classic reproductions displayed museum-like in Nielsen’s store. But the show also presents an unexpected amalgam of innovative work by newly discovered talent as well as iconic designs updated with chic new fabrics. Clearly, the Danes are not resting on their mid-century laurels. And neither is dkVogue.

At Carl Hansen & Son, Nielsen homed in on Hans J. Wegner’s wing chair (Ch445), designed in 1960. Manufactured for the first time in 2006, the chair was spiffed up at ICFF with a bespoke menswear stripe from a new collection by British design legend Sir Paul Smith. “It’s an attention-getter,” Nielsen says. “If we put that chair in our window, it will draw people in. They may not buy the Paul Smith fabric, but they’ll know they can customize our chairs to reflect their own personal style.”

Nielsen and crew also veered over to the Fritz Hansen booth, where everyone was milling around the Space Lounge Chairs by up-and-coming young design team Jens & Laub. The futuristic-looking chairs will available next month at dkVogue, followed by two newly minted 1960s designs by Poul Kjaerholm, the PK8 chair and PK58 table—heretofore seen only in photographs of Kjaerholm’s home.

“By introducing never-issued products or new fabrics from designers like Smith, manufacturers are rejuvenating their collections,” Nielsen explains. “They like to build up anticipation about the reintroductions and create an element of surprise.”

That’s what Lange Production achieved when it reproduced designer Joergen Kastholm’s famous furniture designs, among them the Tulip Chair (Meryl Streep’s desk chair in The Devil Wears Prada) and the Grasshopper Chair, on display in a dazzling almost-white leather. “They are using the same factory, even the same tools, as the team of Kastholm and Fabricius used in the 1960s,” Nielsen says.
Nielsen scores a coup at the show and finalizes his first order for Le Klint lighting, an internationally coveted designer brand. The distinctive lamps with hand-folded paper shades are yet another brilliant example of dkVogue’s singularly Danish design vocabulary.

THE DESIGN TEAM

With 19 ICFF shows under their belts, William Tidmore and Robert Henry have planned an itinerary that is anything but singular. The partners in Tidmore-Henry & Associates Interior Design want to see it all, incredulous that more designers from Sarasota don’t attend.

“How can you specify contemporary if you don’t know what exists?” asks Tidmore, as Henry wanders off. Like kids in a candy store, these ASID designers are prone to splitting off in different directions, regrouping, and then straying once more. The Swarovski booth fascinated the pair with its new uses for crystals. Especially intriguing were innovative lighting displays of fiber optics and LEDs shimmering with crystal. Karim Rashid’s Topograph triggered ideas for ceiling and stair lighting. A faucet with solid crystal handles by Kludi drew raves.

Tidmore and Henry never miss an opportunity to test drive Valcucine’s high-tech kitchens; they love opening the cantilevered cabinet doors, the impeccably designed cutlery drawers, even stroking the carbon fiber glass surfaces. The mood can best be described as lustful, wistful.

At Hansgroehe’s booth, we meet young Philippe Groehe, brand manager for the upscale Axor division. He invites us to the company’s “Aquademy” (a showroom with private test bathrooms and training facility) the next time we happen to be in Germany’s Black Forest. Tidmore and Henry focus on the streamlined Axor Massaud line, where they decide to specify the amazing new Lav Mixer waterfall faucet for a client’s home in Sarasota.

As we pass Wilsonart’s exhibit of student furniture designs, Henry stops to query Jason Wech about his Chip Chair (the frame completely covered with laminate color chips). Tidmore is intrigued with Joel Edmondson’s ergonomic chair, the winning entry in Wilsonart’s student competition.

Design innovation runs rampant at the parade of Italian exhibits. Tidmore and Henry tell me that La Murrina’s contemporary black Murano glass chandeliers in traditional Venetian designs are a viable trend for Sarasota. As we explore the Italian pavilion, Miami-based iModerni’s rep corners us, noticing Sarasota addresses on our badges. “We can’t find where to sell contemporary design on the West Coast [of Florida],” he bemoans. “The general American perception is that contemporary is not comfortable.”

“Our clients trust us to provide a comfort level,” Tidmore assures the rep. Henry and I stifle giggles as we compare his stunning new Toscoquarttro bathtub to a sarcophagus. The show, and the ideas, must go on.