2007 Annual Design Review: Furniture

Posted inID Mag

Best of Category HANABI In Japanese, hana means flower and bi is fire; together they translate to fireworks, a fitting name for a ceiling fixture that blooms when warm. The light’s petals, slices of a shape-memory alloy painted white, pop horizontally as soon as the bulb is illuminated and slowly droop when it’s switched off. The petals are just long enough, explains designer Oki Sato, to extend fully on the power of a 40-watt bulb.

Since the Tokyo-based Nendo was founded in 2002 (its name means clay, implying malleability), it’s built a portfolio of furnishings that emulate nature in surprising, often delightful ways: A room divider is composed of plastic snowflakes that accumulate into a graceful screen, an acrylic ceiling fixture emits sounds of thunder and rain, a bench filled with leaf-shaped lights cycles from spring to fall hues while you sit, the lights then fading as if decomposing after you leave.

On Nendo’s entry form for Hanabi, the designers did not brag about their latest novelty. They sent along just one faded-looking printout of the white fixture, shown in four stages of growth against a white background. The images were so subtle that the jury would have brushed aside the piece if Alhadeff hadn’t remembered seeing it in action at the Milan Furniture Fair a year ago. “It’s just cool,” he raved. “There are lots of lampshades around that change when you turn on the light, but this is by far the best of them.” The other jurors looked over the paperwork a little skeptically. “Can you shape it, or does it unfurl?” McQuaid asked. Alhadeff: “It automatically blooms.” McQuaid: “Oh, wow! Okay, now that’s my favorite.”

“We’ve all responded to its purity,” Dunnigan said. “It’s a very personal interpretation, yet it resonates with all of us. And it has historical precedents—people have been using expanding metals in devices for hundreds of years.” (When you turn on some strands of Christmas lights, for instance, a tiny curled-metal strip inside each bulb flattens out and makes the electrical contact.) Hanabi, McQuaid noted, “doesn’t flaunt its technology. It doesn’t look robotic.” Alhadeff concluded: “It’s innovative, yet it’s familiar. You could live with it closed or open; it’s graceful both ways. It’s indefinably perfect.”

Design Distinctions FILAMENT WOUND BENCH The brothers Granger and Robert Moorhead, partners in the Manhattan firm Moorhead & Moorhead, have been fascinated by industrial tape-winding technology for years. “Normally it’s used to create something solid,” Granger explains. “A golf-club shaft, a water tank, aerospace parts. We wanted to try applying it to large-scale furniture, and we wanted to be environmentally responsible by using a minimal amount of material.” They sought out the Belgian manufacturer Material SA, which also produces CADWIND software for tape-winding machinery, to wrap epoxy-resin-soaked carbon-fiber filaments around a collapsible foam-disk mold. The resulting bench sent the jury into paroxysms of metaphors. “It reminds me of balls of string, woven baskets, tractor wheels,” Alhadeff rattled off. “It has a lot of familiarity, yet it’s novel.” McQuaid, who chose the bench for inclusion in the Cooper-Hewitt’s recent design triennial, loved the possibility of new applications for carbon fiber, “but this would be a great object in any material,” she enthused. In fact, the brothers are already considering options like thermoplastic tape wound around a metal disk; in carbon fiber, they explain, the bench is too expensive to be anything more than a limited edition.

LAYERS It can sometimes take hours for jurors to haggle over an entry’s inclusion, but Layers, Hella Jongerius’s gorgeously embroidered textile with Maharam Design Studio, was a sure thing from the start: “It would have been Best of Category if we were only judging textiles,” Alhadeff declared. Rotterdam-based Jongerius spent four years researching and trying out embroidery patterns based on landscape plans for gardens, parks, and vineyards. A single-ply version is machine-stitched with polyester threads; the double-layer version is hand-cut to reveal a tonal or contrasting undercoat. The jury expressed concern that the expensive wool would pill and that the cut edges might curl, but that didn’t curb their lustfulness: “I’m dying to use this on my living room couch,” Alhadeff said of a dual-layer version in navy and brown. “Tell Hella to send me 12 to 15 yards.” McQuaid likewise praised the two-ply fabric: “Machine embroidery has been done, but the cutouts are innovative,” she said. “The patterns are very intentional yet they have a feeling of randomness. It’s like the needle and scissors went crazy.”

TWIST “Where are the joining points?” Alhadeff asked, mystified as he inspected a photo of PearsonLloyd’s Twist table for the Spanish manufacturer Martinez Otero. “Wouldn’t the joints eventually telegraph through the veneer?” Dunnigan wondered. Back and forth, the jurors tried to puzzle out how Twist could have the seamless appearance of a Mobius strip; the London designers’ laconic description of a process involving “very simple tools and standard timber lamination” did nothing to plead their case. Despite the confusion, the jurors were enchanted enough by the form to honor it; it was later revealed that PearsonLloyd uses one mold to form laminated veneer sheets into four quarters that are then fused together. So while Twist isn’t seamless, mechanically speaking, the joinery, according to partner Luke Pearson, “is done so beautifully that you can’t see it in the finished product.”

100 PERCENT AND WOOD The Salt Lake City–based 3form earned props for two products: 100 Percent, a flecked slab of countertop and partition material made primarily from recycled milk cartons and detergent bottles (below), and Wood, a translucent ecoresin whose razor-thin veneers are harvested from Asian walnut, rosewood, and zebrano trees (opposite). The jury, wowed by the eco-friendliness of both materials, didn’t even know the half of it: 3form’s humble entry form mentioned neither the machinery they used, fueled partly by wind power, nor their promises to donate proceeds from both products to the green think tank Rocky Mountain Institute and to recycle the massive panels after use. Wood, developed by 3form’s architectural arm, had an even cooler untold backstory. The heat-formed panels were developed in conjunction with New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro to be used as undulating, backlit cladding for their ongoing redesign of Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center. Recycled-content sheeting and gauzy veneers have been done before, of course, “but never at this scale,” Alhadeff marveled.

POLAR The surfaces of Polar, a trio of nesting tables with lacquered steel frames, look clear when separated. But once they overlap, the hand-cut polarizing films sandwiched inside their glass tops form dozens of four- or eight-petaled flowers. The name Polar is an overt reference to the film, but also to the motifs “appearing as though trapped in ice,” explains designer Oki Sato. “There are so many patterns available depending on how you put the three together,” Alhadeff said. “It’s the most beautiful thing. If they’d sent samples, it might have won Best of Category.” The product is limited-edition for now, but Sato reports: “We have lots of interest from companies all over the world.”

REPTILE Parsons-trained Turkish product designer Can Yalman’s ceramic tile line was inspired by
the scaly skins of snakes and crocodiles, but it’s also meant to recall Turkey’s ancient tradition of tiling and shingling buildings in repeated geometric patterns. Manufactured by the country’s largest tile manufacturer, the Kale Group, each diamond-shaped snake piece has a molded central ridge, and each crocodile square a high rim; the colors and finishes are based on reptilian pelt variations. While Alhadeff was “grossed out” by the idea of cladding walls in faux reptile, Dunnigan called the products “refreshingly unpretentious,” and McQuaid pointed out, “They could easily have called this ‘teardrop’ or ‘shingle’” to appease reptile-phobes. “As a grouping, with the interlocking system and overall texture,” she added, “this would have a transformative effect on a room.”

IVY Vines, spider webs, crystals, Tinkertoys: Take your pick of metaphors for this snap-together coat-hook system, engineered in ABS plastic to hold even the heaviest of winter coats. Michael Meredith of the New Haven design firm Mos devised the sets, which attach to the wall via just two or three screws. With 16 Ys and 56 connectors, “there are so many potential configurations, you can’t go wrong,” Alhadeff noted. The jurors also appreciated that the system’s modularity lets consumers add on more and more components as their families grow. Dunnigan expressed concern about the manufacturing process—“a plastic bag of plastic parts from China isn’t exactly environmentally friendly,” he pointed out—but in the end, the jurors couldn’t resist: Recycled content would likely have increased the price (which stands now at $65 per set), and throughout the judging day, the jurors delighted in popping together different branches to form new configurations. For the less creative among us, Mos has posted a helpful software applet on its website (www.ivy.mos-office.net), which spews out screenfuls of suggested formations.

POKER No matter how the jurors rotated the joints of this single-lever faucet or aligned its cylinders, they came to same conclusion: “We like,” Alhadeff said. “We want,” McQuaid chimed in. In its folded state, Dunnigan compared the configuration “to an old-fashioned brace and bit drill,” while Alhadeff praised its formal dexterity. “When it’s closed up, the little gap between the head and the base repeats the proportions of the indented bands between the base sections,” he said. The chrome-plated brass piece, etched with graphic plus and minus signs to indicate hot or cold, was designed for the Italian manufacturer Cisal S.p.A. by Florentine architect Luigi Trenti, who based the pivot on swing-arm lamp technology. Poker’s tap, Trenti says, is meant to extend all around a sink and various work surfaces, but its limited height allows it to fit neatly under a row of cabinets. “When it’s open you can use it for drying dishcloths and thin sponges,” Trenti says. “When it’s closed it just looks like a strange sculpture.”

ROTOLA So what if this furniture wheel might not spin as multi-directionally as its manufacturer promises? “I just like the roundness, the shininess of the object,” Dunnigan said of Rotola’s injected-polyurethane tires wrapped around hollow zinc-alloy shells. “If I were a crow, I’d steal it for my nest.” The 90-millimeter wheels, available in a surprising palette of red and orange as well as more predictable chrome and black, were designed by Turin, Italy–based architects Adriano Design for the Milanese manufacturer OGTM, who promises that Rotola—in their words a “virtually nonexistent wheel-hub” that “magically rotates around nothing”—can support up to 150 pounds. The jurors doubted those claims of flexibility and also feared the locking mechanism would prove hopelessly fragile. “If you put your foot on the lever, it will break off,” McQuaid predicted. But Alhadeff defended Rotola for its graphic impact: When the wheel is spun to the right of any furniture leg, he pointed out delightedly: “It forms the b from the Bloomingdale’s logo.”

LIGHT:FLASH The jury was charmed by the cartoonishness of Light:flash before they even realized that its hat-shaped head pops off the bowlegged magnetized base to be used on its own like a portable strobe. “The form is really fun,” Dunnigan said. As he experimented with mounting and dismounting the light, he laughed: “It’s really hard to get electrocuted.” Seattle-based designer Cameron Smith, a co-founder of Product Creation Studio, designed the light for his own small manufacturing company, Emphasis Products. Smith outfitted the inside of an injection-molded polycarbonate cone with six LEDs; a touch of just one button on the head adjusts the color and brightness level. Three high-powered bulbs cast diffuse light, while the other three are lensed to send off flashlight-like beams, and the set lasts up to 20 hours after a battery charge. The lamp has been a hit with kids, Smith says, who find its off-base life and portability ideal for reading under a blanket tent after bedtime. “They also like to spin it like a top—it weeble-wobbles,” he adds. But Alhadeff was critical of the price: At $125, he said, “it looks more democratic than it is.”