Miso is to Sushi as Bench is to Design. Those in the know say that you don't have to order the maguro or unagi to distinguish a great sushi place from a so-so one: the miso will tell. If it's perfectly balanced, you know you're in for a treat. If not, all the wasabi in the world won't make the meal worth your Benjamins. Likewise, how a designer builds a simple bench will tell you whether or not he's worth his, well, soy sauce.
"Design is inherently ethical, because it either affirms or contests the customs of its time."
-- Peter Schjeldahl, "Present Laughter," The New Yorker, 02 December 2002.
Design is shorthand for "made on purpose," and perhaps more than anyone else at this year's ICFF, Jeff Jenkins seems to me to bring a sense of purpose to his work. He describes his work as expressions of the concepts of "mobility in everyday life" and "the ecology of materials," by which he means more than environmentally-friendly design. The ecology of materials is an investigation into how materials work together, and the result, in Jeff's hands, is furniture as instrument, meant to be tuned as it responds to its constituent elements and to its surroundings. The materials that make up his Low Down table--sugar pine, stainless steel, felt--are chosen not because blond wood and felt and steel are "hot," but because sugar pine is a stable wood that doesn't take on and slough off a lot of moisture, and felt and steel are materials that support and echo this stability. A deeper investigation of Jeff's work can be found in the book Design Secrets: Furniture: 50 Real-life Projects Uncovered, just out this month.
Andrew Dickson of Acronym Designs
For Andrew Dickson, exposing the means of production is a key element of Acronym's work. Their focus is on using reclaimed wood acquired through Elmwood Reclaimed Timber with the aim of, as Andrew puts it, "utilizing waste to create lasting designs."
Matthew Bradshaw [pdf]
Recent Pratt graduate Matthew Bradshaw's gallery bench won the 2005 Cue Arts Foundation design competition. Matthew considers his Cue bench "a portrait of New York city," a form abstracted from the skyscaper and fabricated out of a single piece of steel, appended with steel ribs on the underside, then covered with a steel skin to preserve the illusion of a single twisted plane. Pretty sophisticated at any age, but when you consider that Matthew was born in 1983...check your rearview, old school.