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ICFFirst Timers

I&S looks past the big names and the old pros to speak with the rookies of the 2013 International Contemporary Furniture Fair.


I&S looks past the big names and the old pros to speak with the rookies of the 2013 International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

One month after ICFF, the buzzing tradeshow floor may seem a world away, but for many young companies on display, the story is just unfolding. In the weeks and months following the show, budding designers are often negotiating through make or break deals—and keeping their fingers crossed for specification orders big enough to take their business to the next level.

This year, we looked past the big names and the old pros and spoke with the rookies of ICFF 2013 to find out just what it’s like being a new face in the crowd. Here we present an 8-part series featuring the designers celebrating their first year at Javits. Stay tuned as we post one new profile each day, for the next seven business days. To get the ball rolling, we’ll kick off with featured company Justin Donnelly, Ltd.

Justin Donnelly, Ltd. Masters Facets Down in D.C.

Professionally-trained architect and self-taught furniture maker Justin Donnelly broke into the furniture design world in 2010, when he snagged a co-op workspace in his hometown outside Washington, D.C. This year his partnership, Justin Donnelly, Ltd., debuted at ICFF with the Orion Collection, a finely crafted series of tables, consoles and chairs featuring lustrous wood faceting, knife-edge tapering, and floating mortise joinery.

“We tried to come up with something that was elegant and refined, but a little bit edgy with these hard, clean lines,” says Donnelly, who continues to expand his co-op space as real estate becomes available.

Pieces came custom-designed for the tradeshow floor, with a semi-gloss finish that stood out amid a sea of matte rubs and natural grains so prevalent at ICFF.

“There’s no natural light in the convention center, and we needed to make sure people could read the facets,” Donnelly says. “If you have a window the facets explode almost like a gemstone.”

The Orion Collection was born of Donnelly’s ”exhaustive process,” making minute changes across dozens of prototypes until the contours were right for “a basketball player or a gymnast.”

“A lot of faceting isn’t getting sold because it comes out bulky, a little bit student project-y," he explains. “It’s hard, and to make it both comfortable and elegant took a lot of experimentation.” 

Now that the show is over, Justin Donnelly, Ltd. plans to expand the Orion Collection with new materials, colors, and finishes. Pieces are designed with residential settings in mind, but are fit for certain commercial and hospitality projects as well.PageBreak

New Colony Furniture: 

Annie Evelyn Accidentally Makes Something People Want to Use

Brooklyn-based artist and designer Annie Evelyn debuted her company New Colony Furniture at ICFF this year, showcasing a line of chairs that stretch the limits of upholstered seating.

“The reason I was at ICFF this year is that I accidentally made something people would use,” says RISD alum with a notably avant-garde style.

Evelyn began “upholstering” with concrete in graduate school, and expanded to other hard materials like wood, metal, and crystals when she received a Windgate Artist in Residence Award in 2011.

Her “Squishy Sticks” chair was also featured in RISD’s exhibition of alumni work at Wanted Design this year.

Of note at ICFF were two seating design collaborations. One chair incorporated large-scale Swarovski crystals, while another featured an eye-catching pattern of tessellated wood grains created with the help of Brooklyn-based artist Scott Albrecht.PageBreak

Pentagono Estudio Forms a Central Node for Mexican Street Cred

Emerging Design collective Pentagono Estudio of Mexico City arrived on the ICFF scene this year after launching the eye-popping, geometric Nodo Collection at Mexico’s 2012 Design Week.

The Nodo series, includes console, table, and lighting designs made from hand-woven fiberglass, which launched to much fanfare, particularly among design bloggers. Extremely light and extremely sturdy, the pieces are constructed along “nodes that interweave together and let the object generate itself,” says Erick Sauxedo, CEO and founder of Pentagono Estudio.  

The technique can rarely be seen elsewhere, and the seven-member creative studio hopes their endeavor will elevate Mexican design as a competitor on the international stage. They have partnered with ModelAB3D  (led by “fiberglass masters” Manual Serrania and Daniel Rodriguez) to collaborate on product development and production. The team is currently exploring more applications for their techniques.

Pentagono Estudio also launched Mexcal, a ceramic/wood jar and shot glass set inspired by traditional water tanks from Mexico City and Mexico’s iconic mezcal traditions.PageBreak

Jill Malek Defies the Meaning of “Kid Stuff” and Expands to Hospitality

Prior to this year’s show, Jill Malek had only appeared at ICFF through group exhibitions with IDFA. 

“I’ve always done the smaller shows like BKLYN Designs and Wanted Design, and I really loved them because they’re so intimate,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily reject ICFF, but I always felt that I wouldn’t stand out because it was so commercialized.” 

After seeing the success of some friends in the industry who had maintained ICFF booths, Malek made the leap too, and says she is “thrilled” at the response.

In addition to some new colorways for her existing collections, Malek presented a new line of children’s patterns created in collaboration with Sissy and Marley, a boutique baby planner service with a focus on interior decorating for children. 

While Malek’s designs have a distinct residential feel, she also offers base paper applicable to commercial areas, and can convert most designs into Type II vinyl for hospitality. 

“In the last year or so, I’ve been getting more and more interest from hospitality clients,” she says. “I think they’re trying to give more of a special boutique feel and they don’t want something that looks mass produced.”

Prior to founding the wallpaper business in 2008, Malek was a graphic designer and art director for Starwood Hotels’ Westin brand.PageBreak

Patrick Townsend Realizes He Can Do It Himself

Patrick Townsend, who founded his design studio in 1998 and has been licensing lighting concepts to Areaware for the past six years, is no rookie to design. He is however, a rookie to ICFF. This was the first year he had his own booth—and a self-manufactured product.

“I have been making these new designs in my studio the whole time, but not really offering them to the public,” he says. “We just got everything dialed in so that we can do it to order, by hand, right here in Long Island City (Queens, NY). This show is just to get a little bit of that energy out in the world.”

New at Javits were two “Candy Cane” lamps standing at floor- or table-height—designs so mint they’re still nameless. They are a softer, playful departure from Townsend’s more skeletal body of work, though he says he’ll stick to his outer space theme in naming them.

Patrick Townsend Design also does high-end millwork, architectural woodworking, furniture, specialty fixtures, and cabinetry, but for now the company has decided to stay focused on lighting.

“I’m not in a rush,” Townsend says. “We’re here busy making lots of things, but we want to keep it pure and let people become familiar with us through this first.”PageBreak

TJ O’Keefe Does it All

TJ O’Keefe is a one-man show, skilled at architecture, industrial design, graphic design, and marketing his own furniture brand. Despite receiving significant attention for his work since 2010, this was the Chicago-based designer’s first presentation to the East coast market. 

“I really wanted to showcase the work by introducing it as a full line of pieces,” O’Keefe says. “For the first time, I have a full collection that I’ve designed, and we intend to release a new line each year going forward.”

O’Keefe designs lighting, seating, and tables with no-fuss angular frameworks that exude a sharp sensibility one might expect from the graphic design world. Pieces like the Y Table morph into new shapes and structures depending on the viewer’s angle. Bright pops of acidic greens and reds stand in high contrast against true blacks and natural light woods.  

This is not standard fare for a largely American design show. 

“I think that it’s trending that way—people are getting less conservative in general and more open to new and different things,” he says. “It seems like the designers in the trade really respond to it well, and for them the apprehension is coming from their clients. Ultimately it’s those designers that the general public will rely on to show them what’s interesting, so it’s a natural progression.”

Rounding out the existing collection were three new pieces: Dip, a weathered American Cyprus stool with rubber-dipped feet; Lab, a minimal, single-board side table; and Bone, a skeletal lounge chair reminiscent of a classic Adirondack with a Bauhaus twist.PageBreak

David Hsu Makes Design on the Move

David Hsu’s booth at ICFF was the result of just four months of work since he graduated from Pratt in December 2012 with a masters in industrial design. Needless to say he moves quickly, but with a wife serving in the U.S. Air Force, Hsu has to move frequently as well.

“Every decision I make about the company I have to think, ‘What if we move to Germany this year, or Alaska?’ Trying to think about how to do everything in a nimble kind of way is very key for now,” he says. It is a unique challenge among young designers who typically spend their formative years building out permanent work spaces.

Hsu has been focused on mobility from the very beginning. He was first inspired to pursue industrial design as a career when he was tasked with designing a high-powered portable computer for a fashion photography company.

“Even though tech has come along we’re still not quite there yet in terms of design,” Hsu says. “It’s definitely a new challenge, to reconcile the way we used to move and what we used to be able to do with what we want to do now. A lot of design can be implemented, but I don’t think we’ve found the solution yet.”

Like the pack and roll cases he seeks from tool manufacturers, Hsu is currently designing a mobile desk with a container and deployment system that allows just one person to deconstruct, package, and ship the object on their own.

“In my early days back in NYC I basically moved every year, so everything had to be packed up on some kind of dolly and walked across the street,” he says. “It’s kind of strange thinking about building mobility into a desk of those heavy proportions—like a real writing desk or working desk—so I thought it was quite an interesting challenge.”

Hsu hopes that ICFF will be the spark for a new licensing partnership, which would allow him to continue his design work without the burden of manufacturing.

“Right now I’m maintaining just enough space to do prototyping and small orders, but it would be sad to have to move in a year and start that all over,” Hsu says.  

After meeting with manufacturers and designers at the show, he plans to continue his work and explore new designs including a conference table, media cabinet, podium, and bedroom set.PageBreak

Nendo and Caesarstone Defy Gravity

Caesarstone collaborated with Oki Sato, founder and chief designer of acclaimed Japanese design studio nendo, for both companies’ ICFF debut. The Caesarstone booth featured an exclusive installation created by Sato called Stone Garden.

Using Caesarstone’s extensive library of quartz surface materials, Sato designed a series of simple, one-legged table-like surfaces that can be placed together in overlapping configurations, without the use of fasteners. The resulting design, Sato claims, is so sturdy you can walk on it.

“The installation explores the boundary between ‘furniture’ and ‘non-furniture,’” he says. “Tables that aren’t quite tables form a cluster, creating a new kind of ground surface like a garden floating in the universe, far beyond the scale of individual tables.”

The simplicity of the design reflects the minimalistic beauty that nendo is known for while showcasing Caesarstone’s aim to expand the horizons of creative stone application.

This fall, be on the lookout for more from Oki Sato to return with a new collaboration between nendo and Axor.