2018 Furniture Society Conference...

By Nick Polansky

This year I was invited to speak at the 2018 Furniture Society Conference, a 4-day event including presentations from furniture makers and artists from across the nation. This year’s theme was Nexus, which looks at the intersection of technology and art as it relates to the evolving field of furniture making. It took place at Dogpatch Studios on June 13-16. There talks ranged from Women in Technology, to a girl’s project-based learning school, Project H Design in Oakland where underserved communities are given access to technology and the built environment. Other talks honored the great Wendelle Castle and the keynote Speaker Allan Wexler gave a talk presenting his new book “Absurd thinking between Art and Design.” I felt right at home.

My own talk was about my work that began during my Artist Residency at Autodesk in 2015. It was a simple talk about cutting wood. I was nervous, knowing I was not a trained furniture maker but my experience with digital tooling and material exploration allowed me to tell a compelling story. At first I shared basic milling patterns from rift sawn, plain sawn, and quarter sawn and described the properties of each resulting grain type. I then shared my work cutting planks of wood with a table saw and band saw, two analogue tools found in most wood working shops. The wood was cut with thin kerfs allowing it to flex and expand, changing the properties of hard wood to a “soft wood”. I wanted to transfer this operation to a tool with capabilities that these conventional tools did not have and one foreign to wood working.

While at Autodesk I had access a 55,000 psi waterjet cutter. The interesting advantage to this tool besides being able to cut through 5” of stainless steel or stone, was that it could pierce in the center of the material with no lead in or lead out. I used the tool to cut a series of kerf patterns into varies sizes and types of wood. I then steamed the wood and jacked the forms open with wedges and threaded rods. The result were large accordions that could take a 2×8 and expand into a 2×16 with beautiful bent patterns. I created a screen, a column, and a bench. They bridge the threshold of function and art.

The images and diagrams were presented in simple and clear drawings and black and white photographs. The vocabulary was kept simple and straight forward and resulted in a lively discussion following the talk. The majority of the room was interested in the process and potentials. For instance, could an entire log be cut on a waterjet? What types of joints could you make? Could you do this without a waterjet? The keynote speaker for the conference, Allan Wexler, was in the audience and he was impressed by the work and encouraged me to continue exploring. He thought the process and presentation was both technologically precise and brutally analogue, the balance I continue to achieve in my work. He said they represented a limit beyond which they would no longer exist, as if frozen moments of destruction.

The conference gave me great confidence to continue sharing and creating more work. On October 11 I will be showing alongside Cathy Liu at Matarozzi & Pelisnger Builders. I look forward to sharing the unique work with artists and architects, builders, and clients as I continue my art practice of finding balance.

Living Future ’18: Designing Solutions...

By Ben Welty

This past May I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon, to attend the Living Future 2018 unConference, an annual gathering, now in its 12 year, that is hosted by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The ILFI is best known as the administers of the sustainable design certification program, The Living Building Challenge (LBC), which is widely considered the most difficult green building certification to achieve. A Seattle based collaborative, they’ve emerged on the scene in recent years as a challenger to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and it’s more commonly known green building certification program, LEED.

While still somewhat considered grassroots in relative comparison to the scale of the USGBC and LEED, as interest and participation in the LBC has grown, so has the reputation of the ILFI and the conference itself. The quantity and diversity of the seminars was evidence of this, as the content avoided going stale and structured themes afforded attendees the opportunity to define their own paths without fear of getting lost in the shuffle of what can sometimes feel like convention center musical chairs. Taking this approach I chose to hone my focus on the somewhat familiar but complex topic of water conservation and policy, while also exploring the less commonly known field of Biophilic Design.

The water issue is complex. It’s the only necessity of life for which humans are in direct competition with every living organism that surrounds us. Compounding this are the difficulties we seem to face when it is made abundant, as it oftentimes remains unsuitable or insufficient for human consumption. 11% of the world’s population are currently without access to clean water while 25% do not have access to proper sanitation. Yet even in the most arid of places we’ve learned to harness it, treat it, consume it and release it back into the environment in a symbiotic relationship with land not necessarily suitable for human habitation. So why the struggle?

Simply put, we have the tools to solve the issue of water scarcity but our policies and practices do not currently support this. These points were made clear as one after another passionate speakers made their cases for water conservation, policy and equity, each noble in cause and abundant in information. However, there did seem to be a lack of a common thread between the extremes of the spectrum to tie it all together. For instance, I could not help but feel a disconnect between the conversations surrounding the obstacles of building modern, private residences in arid climates and the struggles of the city of Detroit as they deal with a public water crisis in their marginalized communities. This underscored a social chasm that is the widening gap of privilege vs. poverty, an issue that is manifesting itself at local, national and global levels. But this in no way diminishes the importance of the individual conversations themselves, because as world populations continue to grow and climate change tightens its grip, water scarcity is quickly becoming one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century.

One possible design solution to this growing problem could be found in the concepts of biophilic design, whose modern incarnation is still somewhat emerging in the broader field of sustainable design. I found Living Future ‘18 to be a great platform for these concepts, as I imagine this group is far too often passed off as hippies-cum-scientists selling the idea of nautilus shell living as a means to saving the planet. But that would be cliché, as its core tenets that combine nature and design in order replicate natural processes in the built environment have shaped a movement that, for the most part, has avoided its mission coming off too literal (Read more about biophilic design and the ILFI’s initiative HERE). This point was made clear at the beginning of nearly every seminar I attended on the subject, a sign that they’re conscious that the stigma still exists. That said, the content by and large proved otherwise and as building technology advances and sustainable living engrains itself into the social conscious, it’s predictable that these interests would be widely embraced by the design community. The results of this is a broad catalogue of well-designed, contemporary buildings whose numbers continue to grow. No longer is “good design” exempt from incorporating sustainable features. In fact, good design and sustainable design are becoming synonymous, if we’re not there already. So, moving forward, I’m anxious to see whether or not biophilic design assimilates into our contemporary design language as fluidly as sustainable design has over the past two decades.

While the breadth of the Living Future conference pales in comparison to the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild Conference, the quality, knowledge and passion of the speakers did not fail to impress. And though this year’s group of exhibiting product vendors leaves much to be desired, I trust that the list of participants will become more robust in the years to come as more manufacturers survive the strict vetting process that is a perquisite to attending. So, as the ILFI and its unConference enter its formative teenage years, I anticipate (and hope) that the next step in its growth will be largely subsidized by the design and building industries themselves, as it continues to undergo the transition from admirable ideology to established principle.

ICFF in New York City...

By Lindsey Theobald

ICFF is known for being a High End Furniture Fair that showcases the latest and greatest furniture, finishes, and lighting from all over the world.  This last May was my first trip to the fair and now I wonder why I haven’t gone every year.  Practically every manufacturer, designer, and product I admire showcased there and it was such a treat to see it all in person.  As a specifier of furnishings and lighting, I believe that products are understood so much better when seen in person.  Scale, quality, craft, and detail can be realized only when seen in person.  And that’s exactly what I was able to do at ICFF.

The show itself was at Javits Convention Center, NYC’s HUGE convention space on the Hudson. However, some of the best showcases were dotted throughout the city as part of New York’s Design Week.  One of these treasures was the design gallery NEXT LEVEL.  A handful of NYC contemporary designers (Asher Israelow, Eskayel, Hart Textiles, Here Projects, Patrick Weder, and others) curated a large gallery space in NoHo that blurred the line between furniture exhibition and art gallery.

The furniture was crafted to a high level of artistic expression and it was a treat to discuss inception and procedure with the artists themselves.  I had picked NEXT LEVEL as a must see because of wood worker Asher Israelow and leather artist Brit Kleinman (of AVO).  Asher takes brass inlays to a new level, creating brass constellations in wood table tops and brass rivers in dressers.  He collaborated with AVO, an artist of printed leather rugs and tiles that I’ve used in past projects, on a low slung walnut chair with painted leather upholstery.  Patrick Weder was a new find for me.  His wood and concrete credenzas were insane!  Hand carded concrete molded perfectly into beautifully crafted wood credenzas and turned simple furniture into art pieces.  It’s wonderful to find new artists and designers and Patrick Weder is one I hope to use in future projects.  Another fun find at NEXT LEVEL was Kin & Company, a collaboration between two cousins (get it? Kin?).  I had the pleasure of talking with co-founder Kira de Paola about her whimsical side tables and mirrors that are the exact products that can add so much life to an otherwise neutral and “safe” design.  I’ve been liking the half circle shape and I saw it reflected frequently in Kin & Co’s work – a beautiful balance between architectural and decorative.

Since it was Spring in NYC, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked from NEXT LEVEL in NoHo to my next destination – SoHo.  Not only were there multiple New York Design Week pop-ups throughout SoHo, it was a thrill to see other stores and spaces that just had great design.  One of these spaces is the Rachel Comey flagship store designed by Elizabeth Roberts and Charles de Lisle.  My idea of heaven is where architecture and fashion come together!  Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of terrazzo and the store used a concrete version on the floors.  The store is located in a former mechanic’s garage, so a bit of the industrial flavor remains in the steel store front and some heavy timber.  Those items, plus the terrazzo and the addition of board form concrete walls highlighted by soft natural light from skylights above, create an idyllic serene setting that highlight the clothing on display.

The first night consisted of party hoping in SoHo, starting with the Boffi/DePadova showroom, organized by our friends at DZine here in SF.  Boffi is located right in the middle of the design district of SoHo, so I was able to stop in at many more design store happy hours from there, including Artemide, Ingo Maurer, Lee Broom, USM, Foscarini, Tom Dixon, RBW, and Kartell.

The next day was another off-site design stop, this time at the Radnor curated apartment in The Bryant, David Chipperfield’s new residential tower.  Upon arriving I was thrilled to see even more terrazzo!  Tons of it!  David Chipperfield used concrete terrazzo panels on the exterior and interior walls.  The terrazzo was gorgeous, with large aggregates of marble and stone in them.  Plus, Radnor’s curated rooms were the perfect complement to the stunning apartment.  Radnor is a new company formed by the amazing Susan Clark who has a total knack for finding amazing artists and designers and taking them under her wing to curate a showroom of beautiful artists.  Radnor currently represents about 11 designers, only a couple of which I knew (Pelle, Egg Collective, and Workstead I’ve used in past projects and am a huge fan of all three).  Su is a kindred spirit in terms of the design world.  I could easily sense her excitement about each of her designers and that excitement transferred as she spoke about each one and told me their story. I even got to meet one of her designers, a fabulous woodworker name Adam Rogers, whose work celebrates the construction of furniture in its design.

I could have wandered around the city visiting off-site exhibitions all week, but I needed to focus on the actual ICFF fair itself!  I thought it may be dull compared to the amazing exhibitions I’d seen so far, but I was wrong.  It was amazing to see so many of the brands and manufacturers in-person that I usually only view online. I got to say hello to the folks at Brendon Ravenhill, who supplied most of the decorative lighting for our new office, make new connections at Concrete Collaborative (from San Clemente, my old hood!  And they have gorgeous concrete terrazzo!!), and learn about new-to-me designers and manufacturers (Larose Guyon, Hinterland, CVL Luminaires, Sollos, Empire rugs, District Eight, Ercol, I could go on and on!).  I loved talking directly with the designers themselves and just seeing so many products in person was a huge treat.

Another wish list item for me was to visit Bec Brittain’s showroom and studio.  Bec is a lighting designer, originally from Lindsey Adelman’s studio, and now very much successful in her own eponymous line.  Each line of fixtures from Bec Brittain feels like individual art pieces, yet I’ve been able to use them in many projects without them looking out of place or too precious.  Bec opened her studio for NYC X Design Week and showcased a collaboration between her and John Hogan, a glass artist.  I was blown away by their new line, ‘Aries’, where Bec’s lights shown on John’s glass pieces in such a way that each piece threw off rainbows of color, looking different depending on your point of view.  Again, her pieces are super fun without crossing the line into gaudy.  Her showroom is also her working studio, so I was able to see prototypes, items used at special installations, custom pieces, and all the baubbles and shiny pieces that get crafted into one of Bec Brittain’s fixtures.  I continue to be a super fan of hers!

Many of our SF reps were busy at ICFF too.  I got to meet up with Anne Luna from CRI San Francisco to swap stories about what we’ve seen and liked.  I attended a cocktail party thrown by Jenne and Adam from Jak-w at the Bolon flagship, which was great, not only because Jenne and Adam are the best, but because I finally got to see the vinyl carpet they’ve been raving about.  One night, I was invited to attend a dinner hosted by a favorite of mine, Muuto.  The dinner was held in a large space on the 4th or 5th floor of a downtown building that was completely furnished in Muuto sofas, chairs, lights, rugs, etc.  As a big fan of Muuto, I thought the place looked awesome.  And in a classic NY moment, the dinner was being prepared by nineteen-year-old Flynn McGarry, the boy wonder chef who just opened his own restaurant on the Lower East Side.  He has been written up in the Times on a couple occasions, and he’s a bit of a phenomenon, so that made the dinner even more special!  Only in NY.

On my last day in New York, I got to meet up with our SF Herman Miller reps at their flagship store.  Not only is the store home to the Herman Miller NY offices, it also is home to Maharam.  We were treated to a champagne breakfast and then given a $100 golden ticket to spend on anything in the store on the street level.  The store itself was super interesting.  For each season, the curators make up a family and give them personalities, jobs, interests and use those stories to craft their displays.  I forget their entire story, but it was a fun concept to think about while browsing the store.  I picked out a Jaime Hayon vase that uses the Japanese flower arranging technique, Ikebana.  It’s beautiful and I’m pleased to own an item from a designer I admire.  After shopping, we toured the Herman Miller offices; got to try out their newly launched task chair, the Cosm; and then were led on a tour of Maharam to see how they operate, get a glimpse of their sample library, and get a sneak peek at some of their new collaborations.

I needed to stay in NY a couple more days to absorb it all, but I had to get back.  I feel now that ICFF is a must, at least every other year, though I’d love to go again right away in 2019.  Not only was it an opportune way to see so many products in person, it was great to meet up with so many SF reps and designers 3,000 miles away!