#075 / 2006

Alternative avenues

Design denizens roving the aisles at this year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York, May 20-23, encountered the usual range of exhibitors, large and small, competing to create a memorable impact. The established manufacturers, with years of honed experience and large marketing budgets, grabbed the most attention. Those weary of the status quo could get energized by exploring beyond the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to see more exhibits from the next generation of furniture designers.

A few blocks south, on the ninth floor of a Chelsea-district warehouse and home base for the Martha Stewart empire, the exhibition Input/Output benefited from generous display space and professional presentation. Recent alumni and current students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) exhibited more than 25 examples of innovative furniture prototypes.


Commenting on her support of the students, Martha Stewart, founder of MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia), stated, "We are pleased to host this exhibition of RISD work. I have first-hand experience, appreciation and a deep respect for RISD - the institution and its alumini, many of whom work here at MSLO."

Though design critics and manufacturers alike permit some creative leeway, a good furniture prototype (displayed on- or off-site) should incorporate three essential product requirements - innovative form, technical competence and marketability. The RISD furniture reflected a serious commitment to these three concerns, and some pieces also provided a healthy balance of fun and provocative interplay with digital media.


Another next-generation venue involved a further trek from ICFF central. Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, HauteGREEN displayed eco-conscious furniture prototypes, curated by design-writer Aric Chen, Treehugger founder Graham Hill and design consultant Kimberly Oliver. Where the ICFF main venue showed too many examples of eco-furniture that reflected derivative forms and amatuerish execution, HauteGREEN showcased the best of the best.

The success of these alternative shows is a backhanded compliment to the organizers of the main event. As has happened with the Milan furniture show for years and more recently with 100% Design in London, the sprouting of alternate exhibit spaces offers designers a lower-cost and more-expansive option to show their products - and rewards those design denizens who detour from the main site.

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