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Highlights from the 2009 New York International Gift Fair
Sep 2, 2009

There was a lot more social consciousness than innovation on display at the August edition of the New York International Gift Fair, which closed last Thursday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. The organizers said 30,000 buyers from 50 states and 77 countries visited the 2,900 exhibitor stands over six days. “Companies weren’t as aggressive in terms of developing new product as in years past, because they didn’t want to lose money,” said Jack Markuse, the founder of Projectswatches.com. “Business has been bad so people were more cautious.” On the other hand, the fair was busy and business brisk. The standout new offerings, mostly from the juried Accent on Design section, seemed to have at least one of three characteristics: eco-driven-but-not-eco-dominated, innovative and or just plain clever. American Design Club, representing several young talents, had a piece of furniture that fit all three categories. A Manhattan-based collaborative design studio called Rich, Brilliant, Willing (for designers Theo Rich, Charles Brilliant and Alex Willing) created round, glass-topped tables, each unique, with narrow, uneven-in-length scraps of wood assembled in a circle to look like fringe. The tables had style, charm and a modern palette (oyster white, Salem red, citrus green). Retailing at $1,500 for the cocktail table, and $1,200 for the coffee table, however, the handmade tables, named Matryoskha, were not cheap. More reasonably priced were some new items from the Umbra U+ Collection: the Splice Coffee Table, a solid maple M-shaped table fashioned by Mennonite woodworkers in Ontario, at $420; the Grapevine, a clear acrylic 6-bottle wine rack with Swiss-cheese-like cutouts, $21; and Tripolo, a small round marble-top drinks table whose three splayed wooden peg legs perforated the top, like horns, $189. The Tripolo table elicited many smiles. “It’s not so much the product as the attitude,” said Umbra founder Les Mandelbaum, describing his design criteria. “In the old days, design stores weren’t welcoming to young people; they had a bad attitude. We look for casual, affordable contemporary designs. We take a fresh look.” Equally fresh were the ready-to-assemble kits for some Gropius-inspired wall screens, bookcases, tables and chairs from Cardboardesign, a four-year-old New Jersey company that produces toys, house wares and furniture from recycled cardboard. A large desk/worktable retails for $340 and a chair for $96. The chair can accommodate a 250-pound football player. In the industrial design category, Areaware of New York offered the new CarryMe SD folding bike by bicycle designer George Lin. The company claims the $800, 19-pound bike is the lightest and smallest folding model on earth (it’s certainly the chicest). Areaware has a pop-up store in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan until Sept. 26, although the new bike is available only at http://www.areaware.com/proddetail.asp?prod=cycmdsr&CatID=15&subCatID=140. Projectswatches, a division of the Marcuse Corporation, showed Chroma, a stunning new unisex watch by Miami architect Laurinda Spear. Each number on the dial is a different color, and the numerals change color every second, showing the hues of the color spectrum against a black watch face. Twilight, a new model by computer graphics pioneer Daniel Will-Harris, has a face that fades from light to black and back every 20 seconds, an optical effect created by two rotating polarized discs. The booth of the brand agent neo-utility won the prize for best-curated booth in the Accent on Design section. Agent Kip Kotzen had wonderfully innovative things, among them an elegant clear glass samovar, complete with spigot, from Seletti, and the Chimney III, a Japanese humidifier made of 4-foot-tall plastic pastel-colored pipe that emits a frothy mist and aroma, from IDEA International (it’s already accepted for MoMA’s permanent design collection). As for eco-cleverness, Lovegrove & Repucci scored with Greenaid, a nylon reusable shopping bag sold stuffed into a Neoprene rubber “hand grenade.” “I love the deadpan military aesthetic,” said Chicago architect Demian Repucci. “Declare war on plastic!” Finally, outside of Accent on Design, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation was featuring two new products developed with Lego: construction kits for models of Fallingwater ($99.99) and the Guggenheim Museum ($39.99), both made from standard Lego parts, with instruction books featuring photos of the buildings alongside quotes by Wright. Why not stimulate kids’ design consciousness with the real thing? You might end up creating a whole new generation of innovative designers. Article by Wendy Moonan for The Editor at Large.

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