ICFF, the show formerly known as the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, is a victim of New York City’s rock solid design community. There is so much going on in the city during design season that the furniture event at Javits Convention Center seems to be languishing a bit.
Designers are faced with tough choices: Go to the show or attend one of the many design-related events that dot the city at the same time. That means crowds seemed smaller at the show, and many of the majors that used to anchor the event pulled the plug this year. Herman Miller was absent. Knoll wasn’t there. Even Vitra decided to stay away this year.
That does not mean the show wasn’t worthwhile. Always a solid event for fledgling furniture companies and individual makers, ICFF was particularly strong this year for those looking for up and coming designers and ideas that push the limits -- occasionally too far. ICFF is a show where art meets practicality and where makers meet manufacturers.
Many have launched design careers at ICFF and a number of independently designed products have been snapped up at the show by office furniture makers. Peter Stathis had one of his LED lights picked up by Allsteel. He was at the show this year on the Pablo stand with his Corner Office, a system of felt panels that can be used to create privacy on a bench. He showed Corner Office on an off-the-shelf IKEA table to prove how it can elevate even the most pedestrian product.
Always a good show for tracking trends too, ICFF proved that soft lines, soft colors and warmth have replaced stark white, severe angles and sterile fabrics. The trends found in Milan a month ago were mirrored in New York with wood, warmth and whimsy ruling new designs.
Although the very large companies were conspicuously absent this year, a few others stepped forward and stole the spotlight. Both Bernhardt Design and Emeco seriously upped their floor space this year and made the most of it.
Bernhardt’s Mellow Sofa, which made its debut at Maison & Objet in Paris, the Oceane Delain sofa was a showstopper at ICFF and a clear indication of Bernhardt’s position in the design world. A curving, inviting sofa, Delain designed the Mellow sofa so each of the individual buttons on the surface can be pulled tighter or loosened to change the look and sit of the piece.
Delain made the most of new materials as well. “The sofa is like a sandwich of different foams with a memory foam on the surface,” she said. “I used a 3D fabric that is often found in the medical field for the Mellow.”
Delain met with seven different furniture makers in Paris after showing Mellow to the world. Bernhardt was the only one with the design vision to keep the product the way it was designed and put it into production, she said.
“It is an interactive sofa that changes the relationship between the piece and the people sitting on it,” Delain said. “I designed it so the tension on the buttons could be changed because comfort is not standard -- it changes with each individual.”
It was Delain’s first trip to the U.S. and first time at ICFF. She was impressed with the show and the steady stream of architects that made their way to the Bernhardt booth to see her new creation. It is the best place in the world to talk to architects, she said.
Other exhibitors had to work harder to make a name for themselves at the show. Color Cord Co. is not a name known by many in the industry, but Zach Ham, who leads the company’s marketing efforts, hoped to change that at ICFF. The company does just what one would expect -- makes colored cloth electrical cords for shades and canopies that come in a rainbow of hues.
While a colored fabric covered cord might not sound like an important component in office and home design, consider that Microsoft purchased 7,000 cord sets from Color Cord Co. for its headquarters. Really, Color Cord Co. makes a product that makes other lighting products better, Ham said, pointing to a number of other exhibitors at ICFF using them. It was the first time the company has exhibited at ICFF.
Campaign was looking to create some buzz at ICFF as well. The company, which recently launched in California, makes furniture that is ultra easy to assemble, break down and move. Chief Executive Officer Brad Sewell, who began in automotive design at Honda at moved on to Apple before getting into the furniture business, said he was inspired by British campaign furniture -- intricately designed wood furniture that could fold up and be moved as the British Empire spread throughout the world.
“I was walking down the street and saw a discarded sofa and realized it costs more to reupholster a piece of furniture than it does to buy a new one (his furniture’s fabric is velcroed in place and is easy to replace),” Sewell said. “Campaign offers furniture that conveniently ships in days and assembles in minutes without the need for any tools or any instructions.”
The furniture is priced above IKEA, but below West Elm. “We think there are a lot of graduated IKEA customers out there,” he said.
ICFF is also becoming a major lighting show. Many of those exhibiting this year showed how LED is allowing designers to make lighting sculptural and intricate. Others used metal — notably copper — and traditional looking bulbs (that are powered by LED) to create an updated look that builds off industrial, which was so popular a few years ago, but with a much more refined style. LEDs are making their way into other interior products as well. Meystyle showed LED-infused wallpaper and fabrics.
Outdoor furniture continues to grow as well with brands like Fermob and Oasiq displaying at ICFF.
Craftsmanship is also on display at ICFF. Brands like Mater and Uhuru showed furniture with meticulous attention to detail. Uhuru, which got its start a few years ago at ICFF, was back this year with its contract furniture line — beautifully built benching that takes the segment to a much higher design than normally seen. Urbancase is another example of the craftsman and maker mentality that is making its way back into the industry. The Seattle based design firm specializes in modern and custom furniture.
Many of the new exhibitors at the show seemed to be part of the ever-expanding international pavilions set up around the Javits Convention Center. There were contingencies from Spain, the U.K., Austria and Italy, to name just a few. Designer Andres Amaya from Mexico designed a desk for Zafra in Mexico City that had a classic look, but included all the modern amenities, such as USB ports and Bluetooth speakers built into the surface.
And ICFF isn’t limited to hoity–toity furniture makers either. Sauder was back at ICFF showing off its design collection. They are the only company at the show with price tags on its furniture. When a designer saw the $195 price tag on a nicely designed bookcase, she asked, “What do I get for that price?” The Sauder rep on the stand replied: “All of it.” BoF