Text: Reeta Gyamlani
The city of New York came abuzz with international design at the recent Design Week. With events and exhibitions panning across the boroughs, acclaimed designer Reeta Gyamlani made her way through NYC x Design, ICFF, Wanted Design and other satellite venues making notes of her favourite picks, exclusively for mondo*arc india|STIR.
Eighteen years ago I migrated from India to New York City to pursue a Master’s degree at Pratt University, and I have been professionally involved and personally invested in the city’s design environment ever since. As a furniture and interior designer, I am always seeking to hone my own craft without losing sight of the bigger picture. I have learned that it is imperative to keep my hand on the pulse of international design, no matter how far off from my own aesthetic it may be. Witnessing the craft and creations of my fellow artists has always been important, informative, and inspiring for me. So, when mondo*arc india|STIR asked me to cover the NYC design week, I was honoured to
put my passion to work.
As I began my exploration, I was rather surprised to learn that NYC x Design is only in its sixth year, yet it has made such strides in gleaning the world’s best and brightest in this mecca of invention and ingenuity that I call home. Initiated by the New York City Economic Development to depict the presence and impact of design on the economic and social fabric of the city, the annual week includes an array of events that unite culture, education and entertainment across many disciplines of design. Programs include installations, trade shows, panels, presentations, and open studios in all five boroughs. It is safe to say that since it’s introduction, the NYC Design Week has become one of the industry’s most popular events.
The intention is to merge disciplines (architecture, design education and thinking, digital and technology, craft, engineering, fashion, film, furniture, graphic design, manufacturing, interior design, landscape design, product design, theatre, urban design), and this year’s turnout succeeded in bringing the community closer and introducing a plethora of innovation on both sides of the stage.
The city buzzed with colourful NYC x Design banners, as locals and tourists joined with their branded tote bags and endless brochures. Everywhere I turned, there were heated discussions on the streets, in subways, cars, in restaurants – there was a tangible energy that transferred from the designers, through their formations, into the onlookers, and the cycle continued passionately.
I targeted only a few of the events, as it wasn’t humanly possible to see it all. I, of course, had to pay homage to ICFF, apart from which I attended a few independent galleries, the Wanted Design Show and a smattering of street installations.
An exciting overall observation was the broad and bold incorporation of colour. This city of the black and grey showed a fresh inclination toward bright hues. Teals, pastels, oranges, and ochres permeated the arena. From the products to the backdrops, colour was surprisingly everywhere. It reminded me of Ingrid Fetell Lee’s remarks about colour in her TED Talk – “We are attracted towards colour as it expresses abundance and is directly related to joy in a very primal way.” I was excited at the immediate renaissance I felt taking over as I walked down the aisles of the Jacob Javits Center, bumping into wide-eyed industry peers and friends. We all agreed on one thing – there was new blood, new players and new directions. There was a strong focus on handmade brands that offered extremely tactile materials and surfaces. Despite the magnitude of the production, this year’s display possessed a carefully curated, boutique-style ambience that highlighted vendors of all sizes, styles, and status on a global level. Here are a few of my takeaways…
AT THE ICFF
LET’S GET DOWN TO THE BRASS TACKS!
The come back of brass!!! Gold tones peeked from under the chairs, in cabinet hardware and inlays on tables. The contemporary furniture world has generally been partial to colder materials like aluminium and steel, but it was truly refreshing to see designers use warmer metals like brass and bronze to accentuate the hardware details of their furniture. It came across as a non-apologetic, bare-it-all, brass-is-here-to-stay sort of approach. Bold details, mixing brass with leather, brass-topped resin objects, wine holders that flaunted baubles of details…it felt almost like a contemporary take on the Art Deco movement.
This year, there was a sweeping wave of design representation from Brazil, thanks to the Raiz project, a recent collaborative effort to showcase Brazilian Designers. Influenced by the country’s wooden resources, craftsmanship, and beautifully diverse culture, 12 design studios shared their work. Ranging from chairs to innovative wall pegs, the Brasilera left a lasting impression.
Jedar Almeida, an award-winning designer from Brazil known for his rationality and geometry showed his ‘Bell’ chair. The piece was made with leather and brass to resemble a timeless sculpture, while his wine table sported a hand carved, precisely shaped wood top.
Faro, another Brazilian design studio, showcased products with a strong architectural essence. Crafted with steel and covered with multi-coloured nylon rope, their ‘Laco’ wall hanger stole the show. Wall clips were displayed to convey the infinite possibility of patterns and arrangements. And again, brilliant colours shone through.
PRODUCT AND ARCHITECTURE
The lines blurred between architecture and product, each drawing inspiration from the other. Architects used miniature project models to make jewellery, while classic jewellery silhouettes were reimagined as light fixtures. The fluidity amongst disciplines carried with it an exciting acknowledgement of broken barriers and newborn explorations.
An example of such deviation was Zimarty. Started by two architects, it is an experimental studio that employs cutting-edge technology and innovative materials to create objects that blend architecture, geometry and natural forms. One of their pieces ‘Acropora’ was a miniature metal model of one of their life-size projects. Zimarty created rings and pendants from silhouettes within the model. Conversely, Larose Guyon took forms from jewellery and augmented them to create light fixtures. Baubles of light suspended, inspiring awe from onlookers.
Some studios used industrial products to redefine today’s co-working reality, where any space can become an office or a workshop. To honour this changing landscape, Pablo Designs showcased ‘Corner Space’, a product system that provides privacy, light and flexibility. Corner space is a felt partition system that sits on your desk to create a visual barrier, which is fully equipped with inbuilt dimmable light fixtures and USB plug-ins to achieve any desired atmosphere.
WANTED DESIGN SHOW
I also attended the Wanted Design Show, which was incubated in an effort to initiate a collaborative conversation between international designers and design lovers. This show was staged at venues in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, speaking to its cross-disciplinary and inclusive mission. The show displayed the works of small design studios in early start-up stages as well as that of international design students. Ranging from lighting to small objects, Wanted Design was a self-evident testament to the impact design carries in everyday lives on a global scale. Here are a few designers and objects that caught my eye…
Lani Adeoye, the founder of Lani studios, showcased a beautiful collection of lighting and tables inspired by her West African heritage. Made from metal rods, the forms took traditional drums and transitioned them into accentuated and complex sculptures while supporting the pieces’ functionality. Her ‘Talking Table’ won the Wanted Award.
Jill Malek is known for her use of mixed media, with which she creates multi-dimensional wall coverings and rugs. The ‘Natural Dimensions’ collection was a beautiful marriage between non-repeating printed textiles and hand-sewn felt. The collection consisted of four non-repeat patterns: Melt, Terrain, Babylon and Crack, each conveying an abstract, natural and uplifting sentiment.
Another young exhibitor at the Wanted show worth mentioning was Moshi Moshi. Started by Mitsue Kido, a Chilean architect of Japanese heritage, the collection was a translation of Origami. Made with ‘stone paper’, a natural, recyclable, heat resistant, and water repellent mineral paper, the lamps decipher the angular folded forms of origami to undulating edges and celebrate the flora in Latin culture. Being built on a system of a geometric grid allows the lamps to be used both as a table lamp or a pendant depending on its suspension. A Chilean flower inspires the Hana Copihue shown here.
Trained as a fine artist, Simon Johns is a Canadian based designer who displayed his ‘Shale Credenza’ and ‘Trillium Lamp’. Shale rock exists naturally outside of John’s studio, where the rocks crack to form intricate and delicate layers. One of these formations was sketched and chiselled in solid ash wood to create the façade of his credenza.
His Trillium Lamp, made with blackened ash wood and brass, represented a wildflower. Three delicate brass rings formed a canopy that reflected the light and contrasted with the columnesque base for stability. The light delicately peeked out of the canopy at eye level.
As we move from a private lifestyle to a more socially collaborative one, from sharing rides to sharing homes, we see the same co-operation in the creative arena. A/D/O Studio, which stands for ‘Amalgamated Design Studio’ and is proudly named after the team that designed the MINI to deal with a social issue of fuel shortage, was born in Brooklyn with the sole purpose of serving the creative community both locally and globally. A/D/O encourages conversations of people from diverse backgrounds by providing a work and build space, hosting panel discussions and providing event venues. The collaborative space connects designers, fabricators, educators, researchers and investors to encourage cross-disciplinary creation.
The same collaborative ideals were seen by companies that displayed products from different countries. Eggersmann, a German kitchen brand, launched its Frame7 at this year’s ICFF. Designed to appease the US clients whose preferences are set for more stone, the Frame7 combined old world craftsmanship with the latest in technological production techniques. The drawers were clad with precisely detailed stone façades and the solid stone drawer fronts boasted a 7cm stone profile with a 45-degree mitred bevel that created a beautiful frame.
Mexico was not far behind in the collaborative journey with La Tlapalería that showed at Wanted Design. It is a collective of designers with the goal of securing the cultural heritage and craftsmanship of Mexico by creating products with a high aesthetic, conceptual and utilitarian value using artisanal techniques. This year they showed the works of eight design studios to create products inspired by the Mexican beverage culture.
For generations, the tradition of sharing a beverage has been the opening of a conversation, an inclusion in a community. The designers used unique materials and forms to depict this heritage. From designing vessels to enjoy Sotol, a drink used for religious and medicinal purposed by the Tarahumar and Anazasi ethnic groups to beautifully designed glasses for your Torito, a drink made from sugar cane and milk, this collection was beautifully curated using hand-spun copper, pottery and wood, all a celebration of the artist. Cheers, I say!!!
Attending this year’s NYC x Design was unlike any other. I immersed myself in a new way, thinking more critically and observing more specifically than I had in years passed. My tired feet were vetoed by my hungry eyes and I soaked up the work in a new way, seeking out trends and thinking about my future readers – constantly striving to note what would resonate with them and attempting to put my personal preferences at bay, although I am not sure if that is ever truly possible. Writing this while flipping through my endless and often illegible notes has been an ultimately rewarding journey. The through-line of my design excursion was “YES!” It was such a beautiful melting pot of skill, ambition, innovation, risk, inspiration, and beauty. I feel honoured to design amongst such an impressive collective of talent and to share my reflections. I hope you enjoyed the show!