Designed for Allsteel by the Lake Forest, California-based Cortet Studios, Reach workstations make partitions out of storage units. That way, the elaborate brochure explains, knees can’t bump into under-the-desk file cabinets, and messy shelves can be demurely hidden behind tambours or hinged doors. The systems can be customized to appeal to everyone from entry to executive level: The materials palette ranges from wood veneers to a brushed metal called “nomadic aluminum,” adjustable-height desks are available in L, U, or I shapes, and walls can be stacked from 43 to 69 inches high. “I don’t know of anyone else using storage as an architectural element this well,” Bernett said. “People still have a lot of stuff in what was supposed to be the paperless office.”
Flop down on some cushions atop the Libri Lounge and languidly reach for a book with either hand—the chaise lounge-cum-bookshelf is open on both sides. Designer Todd Bracher, a New Yorker now based in Paris, says the piece is meant to hold bodies in a state of levitation, “secure enough for reading but still able to drift off and daydream.” The Japanese manufacturer, Zero First, commissions by custom order the pressed plywood segments from the same factory that makes Sori Yanagi’s iconic 1954 butterfly stool. The jurors wondered if so much plywood so close to the ground would take a beating, but Beylerian praised “the use of positive and negative space and of basic old-fashioned wood construction in a modern way.” After a beat he added, “But you’d need good abdominal muscles to get yourself back up again.”
Recognizing that children hate to keep still even when seated, Brooklyn-based designer Lisa Albin has given them a berth for more than mere fidgeting. The design of the maple-veneered plywood Mod Rocker from Iglooplay is based on extensive tryouts from a small but knowledgeable focus group: Albin’s two young daughters, Anya and Ellie. The designer measured the girls’ legs and knee bends, and brought 6-year-old Anya to the fabricator a few times to ensure a smooth rock with no tipovers. McCarty particularly liked that the piece was wide enough for two kids to share; to Beylerian, the design was “a little old-fashioned, a little homemade, a little Finnish, a little Danish,” but at $250, also a little pricey.
Asymmetric Chaise Lounge
In the 1950s, Knoll gave Harry Bertoia free rein to form seating proposals out of wire mesh. Though half a dozen of the sculptor’s airy creations went on to become best-sellers, this undulating, asymmetric model proved too difficult and costly to realize and thus never went into production. The chaise’s prototype came up for auction two years ago at Wright in Chicago, but before it sold for $118,000, Knoll borrowed the piece and commissioned a quick CAD documentation of the antique’s curves. To produce each replica, two Italian artisans now spend two days hand-welding the metal wires. “It’s poetry, how the base frames the platform, the cradle, how completely Bertoia transformed sculpture into furniture,” Bernett said. McCarty confessed particular delight that reproductions are now for sale: When the prototype came up for auction, she explained, “it made me sick that our museum couldn’t get it.”
When flat, K-Bench slides easily under a bed; expanded, it could fill the bed of a pickup truck and then some. For Belgian manufacturer Vange, native designer Charles Kaisin figured out how to slice polypropylene sheets into stretchy honeycombed seating, forming a tight filigree with ultrasound welding. The benches are most popular in offices, museums, and art collectors’ homes, Kaisin reports, where they have room to stretch out. He’s also developed a smaller round table model whose ends clip together like accordion-paper wedding bells. “I could see these used widely at trade shows,” Bernett said of the flexible bench. “It’s a real innovation,” McCarty added. “It might have won Design Distinction if they’d sent a sample. We would have wanted to try sitting on it.”
PerfectPicturewall Series 1000
The New York-based Picturewall Company knows the chore of calling out “a little to the right—no, too far—a little higher” while hanging framed pictures. They’ve simplified matters by making Picturewall kits with 10 matching frames, archival mats, mounting squares, and a template that can be tacked onto the walls to mark where nails belong. The templates can be cut, stacked, or layered to accommodate any amount of wall space. McCarty was impressed that the company paid so much attention to a small but irritating task, but Beylerian felt Picturewall kits might inhibit his creativity. “This isn’t design, it’s home improvement,” he said. “You’re obliged to hang the pictures a certain way, use the same color frames, and have pictures those sizes.” The company, however, likely isn’t targeting maverick aesthetes: It sensibly recommends the $349 kits, designed by company president Erich Schultz, for contract environments.
The jurors’ tempers flared over the ScooterDesk—at one point Beylerian threatened to quit if the piece didn’t earn at least an Honorable Mention—but everyone finally came to the same conclusion. “The concept is excellent, but the design’s development and manufacturing left us wanting more,” Bernett explained. A portable desk-and-seat combo on wheels, the $300 piece is meant to encourage communication at the office and be used anywhere else people take notes or type on the fly. (Oddly, suggested uses included emailing at a train station, filling out bank forms, or gatekeeping at a posh party.) Designed in-house by Jiri Vanmeerbeeck for the Belgian manufacturer Utilia, the desk weighs 18 pounds and ships nearly flat. “It’s wonderfully useful and original, utterly simple and minimal,” Beylerian said. But after trying out the seat, he complained, “Something is touching me where I don’t want.” Bernett leaned on the desktop and reported, “It’s rickety. I wouldn’t risk putting my laptop on this. And it should have quick-release tighteners; it should easily fold up and collapse. Made right, it would sell a lot.”
Mexican industrial designer Jorge Moreno Arozqueta originally intended Justin Time—a modular mini-dresser or nightstand that unpacks to form a table and a cluster of chairs—for teenagers. After all, its shallow, knob-fronted drawers are ideal compartments for stashing away diaries and other contraband. Instead, his market has skewed even younger, and schools and libraries have been the best customers for the $160 MDF sets, available in custom colors from the designer’s firm, La Jabonera Estudio. The jurors praised the piece for offering children clean CNC-machined lines instead of froufrou: “Let’s give it a non-design award,” Beylerian joked. It meets many essential juvenile needs at once, Bernett added: “It nests, it stacks, it gives kids someplace to store things.”
Slovenian designer Toni Kancilja grew up watching his grandfather hard at work as a shoemaker, stitching and cobbling while sitting comfortably astride a three-legged wooden stool. As a staffer at the OS design studio in Ljubljana, Kancilja has paid homage to his grandfather’s ergonomic perch in polished steel and leather. The saddle seat requires no backrest: “You sit actively with the back muscles constantly engaged,” the designer explains. Beylerian was somewhat dismayed by the $1,250 price tag, but Bernett praised the design’s “simple but engaging basic form, executed in beautiful materials.”
After a close brush with Design Distinction, Ply—a textile by Milanese designer Luisa Cevese for Maharam that embeds tweed, cotton, or chenille fibers in heat-sealed extruded polyurethane—was downgraded due to, once again, a pesky $130-per-yard price tag. “I love the idea of trying to industrialize a craft process,” said McCarty as she ran her hand along the nubby, flexible sheets, “but I wish the price were already benefiting from the industrializing. And I wish I knew these threads were manufacturers’ scraps.” In China, Beylerian suggested, “this could be made for $2 a yard. It’s not yet industrial design. It’s an art piece.”
Textus, part of the California-based Momentum Group, dyes over a hundred batches of yarn to induce gradations in these polyester fabrics, available in eight colorways that morph from, say, cream to mocha, blue to aubergine, or chartreuse to wenge. The collection, by Cory Grosser of Los Angeles’s Positive Industrial Design, is billed as “the industry’s first textile that gradates colors at the woven level.” McCarty pointed out the difficulties of evenly gradating a weave, and Beylerian raved: “Can you imagine it on a set of Louis XV bergeres? It would be spectacular.” However, the jurors agreed on one major downside: “It feels icky,” McCarty said, and thus is best suited to walls or cubicles rather than upholstery.
Few task chairs come so cheap ($300-$650) with so many movable parts. Zody, designed for Haworth by Jorn Dallmann of Germany’s ITO Design, not only has the now-customary adjustable seat and tilt but can also accommodate physical asymmetries or injuries. Separate levers control the left and right lumbar supports, and the armrests shift from side to side and pivot independently. Mesh upholstery (with optional back jackets) leaves those mechanisms visible. “It’s a little sci-fi, but consistent in its design resolution,” Bernett said. “It’s value for the money, and it takes sustainability into account.” (Wind powers the manufacturing process, 51 percent of the content is recycled, and 98 percent can be recycled postmortem.) McCarty wasn’t quite swayed: “I find the whole structure really aggressive,” she said, noting the concentric rectangles on the lumbar supports. Metaphors were bandied about: Did the pattern look like circuit boards, or heating-pad coils? “Maybe it’s the contents of the worker’s brain,” Beylerian quipped.
High-end German plumbing manufacturer Dornbracht has been offering simulated rainstorm showers, designed by the company’s longtime collaborator/official art director, Sieger Design, since 1998. Just Rain is the line’s smallest unit yet, a 16-by-13-inch ceiling-mounted sheet of perforated polished chrome. It’s targeted at renovators (or anyone else lacking McMansion-size bathrooms), and the temperature control dial, xTool, can be permanently set at a favorite temperature. “It’s reinterpreting the old English showerhead with a good modern take,” Bernett said. “It’s trying to change the way people experience showers. You could string up a bunch of them and create a wall of water.”
Alma Urban Benches
Miles of light-rail lines now connect former slums outside Lisbon, and at the new stations, passengers can wait on these concrete-mounted slabs of niangon, a sustainably harvested African wood. Designed by Carlos Rego of Lisbon’s EuroRSCG Design and produced by Barcelonan bench manufacturer Escofet, each Alma bench is cut with straight or wavy slats, per the designer’s specs. The concrete bases are flecked with pebbles that have been concentrated at the structure’s joints to resist vandalism. This rugged urban furniture is reasonably priced—$1,200-$1,500—in part because Escofet lines the concrete injection molds with rubber membranes to eliminate laborious and costly sanding. The jurors admired the innovative shape and materials and, most of all, Rego’s concern for the often ignored realm of street seating. “We want to encourage more submissions in that area,” McCarty said.
After 258 years in business, German ceramics maker Villeroy & Boch has just begun popping LEDs into its tiles. Stainless-steel-framed lights in amber, blue, or white have been bored into 11 tile lines so far. Floors and stairs can thus be dotted and edged with lights like darkened theater rows, and kitchen backsplashes can cast a glow on steel appliances. “As the population ages, we may see more of this sort of thing,” McCarty said. “I can picture many applications, and many possible permutations—maybe we’ll see heat coming out of tiles like this.” Beylerian called the product “useful and elegant, intelligent and new,” but worried that the bulbs would be difficult to change. The company claims that the lights are easily replaceable without an electrician’s help; in any case, the long-wearing LEDs can be left on for 11 years straight without burning out.