Design buffs walking into the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York need discipline and focus or they'll end up like I did last year: one hour in, and I hadn't left the first aisle. • Booth after booth of gorgeous tile had me in thrall. Glassy metallics, resin embedded with tiny seeds, and luscious jewel-toned ceramics had me mesmerized — until a reconnoiter of the floor map told me I had 145,000 square feet of stuff yet to see. Oops. • This year, I strode in with a strategy. Avoid the dramatically lit booths laden with silk and steel wall panels, ginormous white leather sofas and ultra new electronic doodads; most of that stuff is aimed at decorators and architects who conjure up daring hotel lobbies or stylish vodka bars. Make only brief note of the over-the-top pieces: the massive glass dining tables with LED-trimmed undermounted wine shelves, for instance. • Instead, seek out what most of us homeowners could imagine using. • A sensible plan, in theory. In practice, hopeless.
Because the joy of the ICFF, which takes place over four days each spring, is its folly. A Japanese furry robot seal shares floor space with banana scented wallpaper and Shaker brooms. Just when a simple oval bath vessel might soothe your eye at Kohler, there's a riot of tangle-y colored wool on the floor at Patricia Urquoia's rug booth.
Here are silkworm casings spun gently into a lamp shade, there a wallpaper panel crawling with giant moths. Girly, glossy silhouettes give way to minimalist slivers of exotic wood. Design-for-a-dollar recycled treasures share an aisle with top-of-the-line high-tech stoves.
Not everything is over the top. Examples of beautiful, tasteful furniture included a flawless collection of inlaid benches, slate tables, mirrors and felt rugs from Pieter VanTuyl of Michigan. Pure organic silhouettes, executed well, blending modern sensibility with traditional craft in fresh ways.
Young Pratt grad Talitha James presented her Sola desk, a curl of veneer that should find its way into every classroom in the country.
Trove — Jee Levin and Randall Buck's New York-based wall-covering design house — was back this year with a new collection of lamp shades, wood veneer panels and rugs, photoprinted with ethereal feathers, blossoms and tendrils of smoke that gave off a wonderful otherworldly vibe.
Boudoir-chic was popular. Scotland's oldest lace mill, MYB Textiles, worked with cutting-edge design firm Timorous Beasties on a group of wallpapers and fabrics re-created from 1920s cotton lace. In pearly rose damask, the look was sweet and feminine. In black, the effect was dramatically different — risque but romantic. And Irish designer Rachel O'Neill, known for loopy tumbling light fixtures, showed a multitiered concoction made of lacy panties that drew lots of attention.
At furnishings giant Kartell, rich acrylic hues were moodier this year, while the booth of French firm Acrila was mobbed with design mavens admiring the striking acrylic chairs, screens, lamps and playful Baroque-style tables. There were photoprinted trees, rocks and European street scenes on mirrors; snappy plaids, and animal and feather prints on upholstered chair seats in electric colors. A polycarbonate funhouse.
With more than 500 exhibitors from all over the planet, it's hard to see everything, but even a sampling at ICFF is a treat for those interested in the latest ideas in furnishings.