If young furniture designers in New York City have one thing in common, it's hustle. Aspiring musicians or novelists can eke out a side career in interstitial bursts, but for designers committed to making their own work, managing the realities of living here amounts to a full-time job. There's the endless self-promoting at home while trying to get noticed by lucrative European clients; the scrounging for dwindling American production facilities; the search for studio spaces big enough to make prototypes in, but inexpensive enough to afford.
Lucky for us, there's no shortage of talented designers scrappy enough to take on the challenge—and Design Week is when they really shine. Here's a roundup of seven local studios that are launching new pieces this week, both at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and in off-site exhibitions.
Brooklyn-based designer Piet Houtenbos had his first star turn last month, when Stephanie Seymour conversed with him for Interview magazine. And it's no wonder: the 29-year-old Netherlands native has built a budding career around his strong sense of glamour and provocation, from a series of oil lamps he fashioned from army surplus hand grenades in 2003—which he claims are now "kinda sorta maybe" banned from his home country—to his latest invention, the Black Hole Bowl. A thin, concave slab of black granite precision-cut and polished to a slick sheen, the bowl was inspired by renowned British designer Marc Newson's line of concrete furniture. Houtenbos finds much of his inspiration, though, on the streets of New York City; a stroll past the Apple store in SoHo inspired another recent project: the whisper-thin Propeller shelf. "I was trying to bring out the inherent beauty of a simple board of wood just by thinning and shaping it the right way," he says. "The strong, sharp edge on the new aluminum MacBook turned out to be the perfect detail. I don't think that kind of thing happens as easily everywhere else, because here you're always walking."
Rich, Brilliant, Willing
Though they graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design furniture program only two years ago, the three members of Rich, Brilliant, Willing—Theo Richardson, Charles Brill and Alex Williams, hence the cheeky moniker—are already gunning for design-world recognition. "I think there's a lot of opportunity in New York right now; where we fit in is as young upstarts, taking advantage of any openings left by others before us," says Richardson. The group, who operate out of a dark basement studio in the East Village and whose work has a bold, graphic style, launched their first furniture line during last year's ICFF with a solo exhibition at SoHo's Kiosk design store. Their second project, the Russian Doll coffee table, was quickly picked up by the influential Williamsburg store The Future Perfect. Made initially from variegated overlapping wood slats and then from colorful metal panels, the Russian Doll Table's third iteration is a taller, narrower version. During the ICFF, Rich, Brilliant, Willing will show the piece in an exhibition at Design Within Reach with a local coalition they're founding members of: the American Design Club. Sure, they dream of working with big Italian furniture companies, but for now they're still building pride of place: "Location, location, location—it's definitely working for us," says Richardson.
Likely Brooklyn's best-known contemporary furniture designer at the moment, Jason Miller made his name with the now iconic white Antler chandelier in the early part of the decade. Since then he's been obsessed with kitsch, and with twisting the seemingly old, tired and disused into objects of beautiful, ironic luxury. At times, as with his Duct Tape Chair or his permanently Dusty Tables, Miller's furniture actually appears physically worn or busted. All of which makes it hard to tell whether his new It's Not a Joke Anymore collection, which will make its American debut in Miller's booth at the Javits Center, is truly a plea to be taken seriously or simply a part of his ongoing narrative. The Woolly Chair, a fuzzy brown bison hide with button eyes and splayed gold legs, would suggest the latter, but this relatively subdued series of occasional tables with tinted glass tops, inspired by Ray-Ban aviators, is a testament to the designer's softer side: "One day I was struck by the amount of design effort that goes into making sunglasses," Miller says. "The best of them are really amazing design objects. I was trying to bring some of that to the furniture world."byAMT
Though it all shares her characteristic wit, Alissia Melka-Teichroew's work is diverse. She was born in the Netherlands to a French mother and an American father, graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven before getting a master's at Rhode Island School of Design and worked for IDEO and Puma before founding her Brooklyn studio four years ago. Since then, she's made it her business to design everything from jewelry to gallery exhibits to dinner plates folded like taco shells so they can be more easily carried in the palm of one's hand. Her brand-new Taped Table Linens series marries opposing inspirations from her native homeland and her adopted one: its jagged tape-grid pattern, woven into a high-quality damask fabric, evokes "the lines on the streets that indicate where we should drive, where we can pass another car, where we should cross the street, where we shouldn't park," she says. "So instead of having these perfect lines on the raw and dirty streets of the City, we've created a set of finely made linens." The tea towels and napkins feature a thin checkered pattern that's typically Dutch.Paul Loebach
His new slatted-wood Gradient Table may look ocean-blue and vaguely rustic, like something you'd unearth at the beach house, but Ohio transplant Paul Loebach insists his work is "inspired by the industrial landscape of New York and the overwhelming amount of interesting objects everywhere—why do they exist and what do they mean?" He first envisioned the Gradient Table while biking over the Brooklyn Bridge (though we doubt it owes its color scheme to the East River), and he'll present it during ICFF at the Designboom Mart, a section of the fair where young designers can show and sell their wares. Loebach is descended from a long line of German woodworkers, but he approaches wood with a strikingly modern sensibility, and not all of his more recent creations are cut from the stuff: at the Milan Furniture Fair in April, he showed a marble shelf with an integrated bowl that was purchased by a prominent Italian design gallerist.Lindsey Adelman
With her very own glassblowing studio and team of artisans in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, New York native Lindsey Adelman can freely experiment with her signature sculptural glass-globe lights, variations of which sell in the local cutting-edge design store Matter. "Sometimes I forget how amazing it is to be able to manufacture them entirely in NYC," she muses. "New York has a long history of manufacturing, most notably in the garment industry, and much of it is still going strong. There really aren't many cities in the States where I could get the globes handblown and the metal parts machined, get any plating and finish I want and have them assembled and wired all by local suppliers." For the Branching Bubble series of made-to-order chandeliers she'll launch during the ICFF, all of those elements—the finish, the metal parts, the number of handblown globes—can be customized. Lindsey's craftsmanship extends beyond lamps—she also makes artwork out of human hair.Takeshi Miyakawa
Takeshi Miyakawa arrived in New York from Tokyo in 1989—"back when there were so many suppliers selling scraps and garbage on Canal Street, and I could always find exactly what I needed" he reminisces—and actually did toil away anonymously in larger studios (notably Rafael Viñoly's model shop) before founding his own in 2001. But although he was late to the game, his work—cabinets, tables and chairs with fascinating geometries, skewed angles and endlessly nested drawers and shelves—is starting to gain recognition. Miyakawa exhibited at the recent BKLYN DESIGNS fair, and he and a group of designers from that show will split a booth at the Javits Center during the ICFF. Among his new launches are the cubist Candy Blossom lamp and table, in shades of yellow and pink acrylic chosen to help ward off any recession-induced moodiness and welcome spring to the City.