21 Nov 2018
Reinvention Turns the Tables at New York Contemporary Furniture Fair
Amid the eclectic range of exhibits that constituted New York's International Contemporary Furniture Fair, recreating the familiar – whether that be in the form of tables, stepladders or showerheads – in bold new ways was positively de rigueur.
An eclectic mix of exhibits greeted visitors to New York City's International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), with everything from the mundane minutiae of interior decoration to expensive flights of fancy on offer. With such a broad range of products on show, it was unsurprising that it was hard to detect many common themes running through the convention. One strand that did perhaps stand out, however, was the notion of reinvention.
A prime example of this was the collection of children's furniture on offer from Platforma4, a Brazilian design collective. Clearly keen to forsake the traditional design aesthetic favoured for nursery furniture, designer Camila Fix said: "Our idea is to make furniture that is more contemporary through a combination of MDF and hardwood. We think it's markedly cosier, which brings extra value to the customer."
As well as a new look, the collection also offered added functionality. Explaining how the pieces have been designed to extend their useful life, Fix said: "Each product can be used in a different way. One unit, for example, can be used as a small crib, as a larger crib or as a bed, so you can use one product at three different stages of a child's life."
Another novel take on a well-established product was a power-assisted pool table complete with hydraulic rams, created by Florida-based high-end table maker US8 Billiards. Explaining the idea behind the design, the company's General Manager Sara Malizia said: "This pool table is designed to allow disabled and able-bodied people to play one another. To this end, we have added an app, so users just say: 'Revolution up' and the table goes up; 'Revolution down' and the table goes down."
While undoubtedly a high-profile curio and one that drew considerable attention, the table also proved to be a fine showcase for the company's craft and technical skills. Describing how its engineers overcame a number of problems while creating the unit, Malizia said: "We started to develop this project 20 years ago. We have done a lot of research because you don't want the balls to move and this was a big issue. We had to use some components that are used in NASA projects in order to reduce vibrations – that's the secret."
A less technically challenging – and certainly less expensive – innovation was on offer from Osaka-based Hasegawa, which was displaying its range of slimline step ladders. Maintaining that the idea was to save time and space when storing ladders, Yoshihiro Sasaki, the company's General Manager, said "These ladders don't have to be hidden away, they can just be kept in the open."
Adding that Hasegawa has had great success selling ladders to prestige retailers, who have to provide staff with a safe way to reach high shelves, but also want to create an attractive sales environment, Sasaki said: "The two-step and the three-step ladders sell best because we sell to high-end shops, such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry. These shops have to use them because of the regulatory requirement – they have to have a wide step for safety reasons.
"The ladders' compact size and sleek appearance are also popular with people living in cramped city apartments. In Tokyo, Hong Kong and New York, homes are very small and, when folded up, these steps can squeeze into a tiny space."
In many instances, of course, reinvention had come in response to changing consumer demand, with a case in point being Dornbracht, a Minnesota-based bathroom and spa fitting company. Explaining that the high-end hotels buying the company's lavish shower fittings were coming under pressure from ever more demanding customers, Sales Consultant Go Kasai said: "Hotel guests these days don't want to go to the spa, they want somebody to come to their hotel room, where they expect the required spa accessories to be easily accessible."
With this in mind, Dornbracht was displaying several extravagant shower units – including the Rainmoon, a distinctive shower fixture that combines overhead lighting and water delivery, which encircles the user in light and a cascading rainfall effect.
Outlining the thinking behind the product, Kasai said: "This is part of a collection called Life Spa, which we launched a few years ago. The idea is to bring the spa health and wellness aspect of resorts into your room."
Reinventing the Shopping Mall
Not only products were being reinvented, however. Places they are sold were also getting something of a makeover. This is partly because the ubiquitous American shopping mall has been suffering from dwindling footfall and shrinking sales for a number of years, largely due to the rise of online retail. Noting the current trend for mixed-use spaces, Jared King, Architectural Consultant at Georgia-based Ceramic Technics, said: "We are seeing lots of spaces that are now live-work-play areas. There is an office part, then mixed apartments, then restaurants and retail.
"Everyone is always talking about Amazon and the death of the shopping mall. We've seen that in a couple of places, but we have also seen that shopping malls are doing a lot to get customers to come back for more than just a shopping excursion. They are making it an experience, so you're going to shop but you're also going to see a movie, to eat and to do other activities."
Asserting that certain types of tile are becoming a popular element of this new mall environment, he said: "On the mall side, the majority are porcelain and we have also seen a growth in demand for what's called large format – big slabs that are six or seven feet by three feet wide. While they're a bit more complicated to install and little bit harder to ship, they do deliver an interesting look."
A common sight at the show was large Edison decorative light bulbs, complete with softly glowing filaments that resulted in an attractive appearance, but little illumination. Standing out from the crowd among the lighting exhibitors was a large light installation by Luke Lamp of New York, which featured distinctive, long glowing ropes.
Describing just what makes the product unique, company founder Luke Kelly said: "We stumbled on the concept of putting light inside a rope a few years back and have since refined just what we can do. We fill spaces and do things with it now that aren't possible with any other kinds of light fitting. By properly utilising it, we created some really dramatic lobby, restaurant and bar installations.
"We can do a wide range of colour temperatures and we can also work with colour-changing LEDs. For most applications, though, we've found that a nice warm white is the most appropriate."
Producing 300 lumens per foot and with a maximum reach of 27 feet, the light rope is intended as decoration rather than as a replacement illumination source. Acknowledging this, Kelly said: "The brighter the LEDs are, the more heat they put out. When they're in a confined space, the more heat the shorter the life span. It's always going to be a trade-off."
Of course, not every exhibitor at the event was setting out to revolutionise one product or another. For some, a slight tweak to an already successful item was more than enough to yield huge dividends.
Clearly a believer in the latter approach, Edward J Donohue, Chief Operating Office of New York-based Harrington Brass Works, said: "Over the years, I have seen styles come and go in the world of faucets and metal work in general. When you go back to the mid to late '80s and early '90s, polished brass was the favoured finish. Then things started to swing the other way, with a polished nickel or a satin nickel, something a bit more subdued, the most popular option. Currently, satin nickel, chrome and polished nickel are the big three and are, easily, our biggest sellers.
"This, year, though, we had a good look at the market and at how often people change their bathroom compared with how often they change their kitchen. On average, we found the bathroom is replaced two-and-half-times more often than the kitchen.
"In the kitchen, we had limited options because all we sold were faucets and a simple soap dispenser. In the bathroom, we could offer all the accessories – the faucet, the shower, the towel ring, the soap dish, the toothbrush holder… From a profitability standpoint, we're far better off focusing on the bathroom."
The 2018 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) took place from 20-23 May at New York City's Jacob K Javits Center.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York