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May 18, 2010
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

I was interested to see how the economy has affected the global furniture industry this past weekend as I attended the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF). While the whole show was scaled back — it did not take up as much space, and I noticed the absence of the ICFF tote bags — I was disappointed in how few booths indicated any consideration for new, creatively cheaper ways to develop the craft. I know the ICFF does not usually cater to the financially challenged, but among the typical limited-edition, high-end furniture, I expected more for less.

The one group that did seem to be considering an economy of means was the British European Design Group. From Qurz Inc’s recycled paper bowls to Papillon Designs’ furniture and light fixtures made from repurposed blue jeans, it is apparent the British are not immune to the recession. There were other exceptions, too, including Tim Byrne’s inventive and pragmatic tables made from re-used industrial mill machinery, and BRC Designs’ furniture, which included a chair made from used Las Vegas decks of cards and a couch made from old zippers and silk ties (although the price point for all of the furniture is much higher than most can afford these days).

Highlights for me included the booths set up by Pratt and Parsons The New School. At Pratt, students explored industrial design that featured different cultures. Fernanda Fajardo chose to transform tires with twine in a “do-it-yourself” musical instrument referencing New York’s HardCore culture. At Parsons, Chelsea Briganti’s “Mademoicell” was a kit of test tube-like devices made from medical-grade silicone that women may collect and store their own stem cells from menstrual blood.

Material ConneXion’s booth stood out (as it usually does at ICFF) as a testing board for innovative, sustainable, and new affordable materials. This year, the company teamed with Puma and designer Yves Béhar to create more sustainable packaging that supposedly will save more than 60% of paper and water annually compared to typical packaging. Cleverly, the bags on display stated “I’m half the bag I used to be.” Material ConneXion was also introducing ActiveMATTER, a box with 15 selected materials with technical information that they ship to subscribers quarterly.

Overall, ICFF seems to have changed very little from last year. Perhaps the furniture industry is in a rut; perhaps the more innovative designs are currently on hold until the economy recovers. No doubt, though, ICFF could use a refresh. Maybe next year…

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