The 2003 International Contemporary Furniture Fair

Our New York editor’s report on the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

COZY AND MOD: Granny’s quilts are a thing of the past (quite literally) with FunQuilts hip, contemporary spin.


Modern Love

Our New York editor’s favorite finds from this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

Every year in New York, I love going to the ultra-mod International Contemporary Furniture Fair. It’s a heady mix of today’s hippest designers, with their latest interpretations of classic modern furniture, and lots of delicious Italian accents. ICFF is the one show where you can satisfy your lust for contemporary product, while pondering the roots of modernism from Bauhaus to Florence Knoll.

Actually, amid all of the excitement this year, I was very conscious of the pervasiveness of modern design, championed most notably by Design Within Reach. The brainchild of designer Rob Forbes, who’s attendance at this year’s ICFF caused quite a stir, DWR, once a little known, ultra-cool cataloger of modern furniture, has catapulted itself into the retail market with 13 DWR Studios. These days, thanks to DWR (and to Michael Graves and Phillipe Starck for Target), modern furniture and accessories are readily available to, well, everyone. So, while I loved the hand-screened wallpaper and grasscloth from twenty2 wallpaper and Burning Relic’s sexy creations made from rubber, coal, wood, and leather, I couldn’t help but wonder: am I going to be offered these designs in a freebie mailer next year?

The mass marketing of modern design might sit well with most consumers, but we tried-and-true fans of the genre are having to readjust our style gyroscopes and accept the fact that our favorite Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair has become downright commonplace. Of course, designers and their clients have always been at capitalistic odds. To be successful, the designer must sell his products to as many customers as possible, while the discerning client is always on the hunt for that which is unique (and, oh, what we’ll pay to ensure that exclusivity). It’s another variation on the age-old battle between art and commerce.

And yet, if today’s modern furniture enthusiasts are true to the ideology, they’ll suffer no conflicted feelings from seeing their Mies chair parked in every family room in America. The avant-garde designers of the 1920s “Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Mies van der Rohe “dreamt of using the emerging industrialization to mass produce designs that were functional, yet beautiful, making low-cost, high-quality modern design available to the average consumer. Well, fellas, be careful what you wish for: the one-two-punch of 21st-century technology and marketing has enabled the business savants at Design Within Reach and Target to finally deliver those designs. All hail Rob Forbes.

As I continued to work my way through the show, I was able to lighten up a bit. For the first time ever, I was seeing contemporary children’s furniture. Wow. Recognizing children’s furniture as a legitimate category is a giant step for the industry. Of the few children’s lines on display, my favorite was from the Italian manufacturer Riva R1920. American architect Terry Dwan has teamed up with Riva R1920 to create their new Bloomington Collection of transitional infant/toddler furniture. Her designs offer simple and elegant versatility, with a modern touch. The nine-piece collection is high on function, with a small bed that transforms into a bench, a crib that becomes a small sofa and, of course, a changing table that grows up to be a chest of drawers. Thoughtful details, such as hanging pegs on the armoires, natural leather pulls, and cozy cushions sweetly tied in place, make this a refreshing alternative to traditional nursery furnishings.

Kudos to the organizers of this year’s ICFF “they did a great job of taking the edge off the cool steel and colorful acrylics by integrating specialty designers of softer, more organic furnishings. A few caught my eye: a quilting couple from the Midwest and an amazing woman from Washington state whose passion (and gift) is designing with felt.

Situated in Oak Park, Ill., FunQuilts design studio puts a new twist on traditional American quilt-making. Husband and wife design team Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle do it all, using fresh colors, textures, and patterns in original designs to produce handmade, one-of-a-kind quilts for bedding or wall art. Their work combines the best of traditional craftsmanship with snappy contemporary design that gives a kinder, gentler touch to modernism. The quilts are available in New York at the American Folk Art Museum and the Museum of Arts and Design and through a few select retailers. And (shh!) FunQuilts is fast becoming a favorite of designers for custom pieces.

As I was leaving, Janice Arnold’s bright felt accessories stopped me in my tracks. Her pillows, bolsters, blankets, cushions, cubes, and carpet offer warm, textural contrast to hard-edged contemporary furniture. Remember felt “that flat, non-woven fabric that you glued to everything in grade school? Well, take another look. Felt is the oldest textile known to man; long before weaving and knitting, non-woven felt was used for almost everything “from clothing to military breastplates to nomadic homes (yurts).

Today, J. Arnold Felt brings an extraordinary texture and color palette to home furnishings using 100-percent wool fleece (sometimes combined with mohair, silk, linen, or flax). Colors range from earthy taupes to vibrant magentas, and each translates easily into a wide range of accessories that add punch and character to any room. Or yurt.

Best of all, you won’t find FunQuilts or J. Arnold Felt in a catalog next year.

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