“The best thing about ICFF in 2010 was watching the paint dry.” – Michael A.C. Christie
Exaggeration aside, and acknowledging that it was not actually the best thing about ICFF, I feel that a non rug related mention needs to go to Valspar Paint for their booth concept I am calling “The Obelisk”. Not since the opening scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey have so many humanoids stood around staring in marvel at a large smooth rectangular object, in this case a wall. And while I am 100% certain this wall has no powers of stellar origin, it was able to captivate the crowds as a small cadre of “models who paint” repainted the wall every two (2) hours or so. Polite Applause.
And now: Rug Reviews and other Ephemera with the headlining mention and lead review going to…. (Drum roll please…)
Tania Johnson Design
Now before any of the other exhibitors get their feathers all up in a ruffle with such absurdly arrogant statements as “My booth was better.” or “How could you have overlooked me?” I am going to come clean and flatly state that Ms. Johnson gets top billing because: a) her booth was located next to the Valspar Booth, and would not that have been a nice transition had I chosen to take that route, and 2) She emailed “The Ruggist” and personally invited me to come by.
Ms. Johnson’s rugs and carpets are available made to order and are, in general, abstractions and interpretations of her photography. She works with a fair amount of layering of elements, and has a keen sense of colour and balance. Production is GoodWeave Certified and is of the caliber one would expect coming out of Nepal. Overall her rugs are well designed and executede and contining the aesthetic development of the “Tibetan” rug as a class.
Speaking of “layering”…. If ever there was a solid identifiable trend in handmade rugs the current would be layering. Layering of elements, of motifs, of colour, of whatever. As long as it is in layers. End side note.
Oh Swoon! I’ll leave it for you to decide wether or not I mean the rugs or Mr. Kath himself; that is a “secret” I will leave as such for now. What I will tell you and it is by all means no secret, is that I have been a fan of Jan Kath’s carpets and bordering on more so, his advertising since I first received the “Wonderland” Brochure in the mail many years ago. I still have it and I still think it is a great piece of marketing. I would buy ten (10) of the red rug in the field with Puss and Boots if only the man in the boots came along as well. But I digress…
This year marked the first ICFF for Jan Kath and also inaugurated a North American partnership with Cadry’s (of Florence Broadhurst renown in North America, more below) that has the still ever lovely Jessica Cadry representing Jan Kath in North America. This is an extension of their continued Australian partnership, and given the strength of Jan Kath’s designs and Candry’s know how, I am sure it is to be a success.
Of note is the “radideluxe” collection featuring a great melding of traditional and modern designs.. wait for it… layered together, which come to life and are accentuated with breathtaking colour. The concept reminds me of Haynes Robinson’s approach with the current Sahar Colleciton (also layering), though the finished aesthetics are quite distinct.
Though I did not spend a lot of time with Mr. Kath, I was impressed by his passion for and commitment to quality. Given the current state of workmanship and production in Nepal, it is impressive he is able to produce the quality of carpets he was showing. Rumor has it he personally approves each weaver.
The finally swoon worthy comment comes from Mr. Kath’s sense of humor. These are the pins that were being passed out at his booth. I love the cheeky “Important Customer”, but my heart belongs to “HANDTUFT? – no thanks”. With apologies to all of my friends who make handtufted, this pin is (caution extreme language ahead) …fucking awesome! Another rumor is that the design is inspired by the signs in Germany that warn of radiation. Swoon indeed!
Perennial ICFF exhibitor Amy Helfand returned this year, renewed, refreshed, and invigorated with a conceptual booth that goes to the heart of what ICFF is supposed to be about: Marketing. Now located out of the relative slums of the last aisle, her booth showed her new “Garland Rugs” which are derivative works of her collection shown at last years ICFF. The booth also featured sculpture by Ms. Helfand, and I personally find the true artistic process evident in both her work and her booth to be quite refreshing. “Garland” continues the silhouetted play with the ubiquitous Tibetan Prayer Flag, and is reflective of Ms. Helfand’s itinerant rug styling.
No visit to ICFF would be complete for The Ruggist (I love being in the third person.) without a stop to see Emma Gardner. I am unsure if there is a finer rug marketing team on the planet, as this year Ms. Gardner kept a conspicuously limited and structured schedule of appearances at her booth. Talk about creating demand. Hats off!
This year also saw the introduction of “emma at home” which transitions the handtufted work of Ms. Gardner to Chandra rugs, allowing the designs to compete at a very accessible price point. For readers of dwell, the rugs can now be yours. This also allows Ms. Gardner to best focus her impressive design skills to the appropriate medium, which I am predicting will lead to ever better designs in both handtufted (no thanks!) and handknotted.
As always, I enjoyed a lively and entertaining conversation with Patrick McDarrah which ended with The Ruggist complaining (again) of the lack of truly good multi-line rug showrooms in New York City. Where are the small producers supposed to show?
Swoon again! This time though it is not in lust after rugs (though his rugs are lustworthy) or perhaps after the namesake of the company, at least not in the way you might expect, though I do adore Bennett Bean. He is the man I want to be in however many years age difference is between my age and his. He is an accomplished potter and artist and creates some of the most visually stunning and complex (and also layered) designs of anyone showing at ICFF. Like Amy Helfand’s they really are art. But that is not why I want to be him. I want to be him because he enjoys life, is superbly witty, does what he loves (presumably making at least some money at it), and he has a beautiful, creative and intelligent collaborator/assistant in the form of Elizabeth Rand. Who wouldn’t want that?
I really enjoyed a brochure created by Bennett and Elizabeth (I can call them that because we do dinner together just for fun.). Entitled “We Design”, the brochure illustrates through photography and some carefully scripted notes the Bennett Bean design process and makes you want to buy one of his rugs because you will feel as though you are part of the artistic/design process and that your rug will be unique to you. Which it will be!
It is said that perception is reality, and due to my perceived expertise in god only knows what, I came to know Gary Shafran, EVP of Malena B and then by way of a dinner invitation (which I of course accepted) I met the vibrant Malena Barnett (the name behind the said “b”).
Her rugs are a refreshing departure from the expected, no.. ordinary, no…normal, no…. hmmm. I am not sure what they depart from but they are unique. They don’t blend in like the rugs of some unnamed large producers, and they fill, if Ms. B will forgive me, a certain more literal multi-ethnic aesthetic that is severely lacking in North American rugs. By example, the rug featured prominently at the back of her booth (see below) is inspired by a henna painting on her hands she received while traveling in India (if i’ve got the story correct), or she was at Lilith Fair in 1998, and I am hoping it is the former. Either way, she is in touch with some broader ethnic and cultural considerations, which I find quite welcome.
(l to r) Michael A.C. Christie and Malena B at ICFF
Malena (I can call her that, we are Facebook friends) is also hilarious! We enjoyed a wonderful meal of [[insert any food name here it doesn’t matter]] but the real treat other than her lively personality was dessert. As everyone knows NYC (and indeed the Western World) is in the midst of an irrational obsession with cupcakes and Malena knows where the best are to be found. Thanks Malena and thanks to Butter Lane.
Lisa Phillips was and is still best known to The Ruggist as the designer behind Alto Steps. I finally took the opportunity ICFF affords to introduce myself and express my approval – though no one should hinge anything on my approval or disapproval – of the concept and the designs. I love (as we should all know by now) the marriage of the old (concept of stair treads) with the new (execution of concept). I’m glad to see she is still making this and I wish her continued success.
Oh! In case you are wondering… Yes there is a method (mildly adhesive non-slip padding) that prevents the treads from slipping on the stairs and it comes with the set.
Cute. Whimsical. Childlike. Maybe not the way most companies would like their designs to be classed, but for a company that set out to create rugs for children’s environments that are well designed (without being childish) and affordable priced (as children’s rugs should be), I hope they take it as the most sincere compliment. Beyond their children’s rugs is a collection of carpets based on silhouettes that play with the use of positive and negative space through bold colourations. The entire line is handtufted in India, and as is fitting for children’s rugs are certified free of child labour by: GoodWeave.
Gratuitous and – as some people will call it – self-serving* GoodWeave mention. You know, the organization that ensures there is no illegal child labour in rug production. I’ll spare you the lengthy version this time, but support this group. Failure do to any meaningful thing to prevent child labour due to methodology, politics, or ego is tantamount to complicity with the use of child labour.
Really? Really? Where is his Visa?
While I am being slightly (understatement) sanctimonious, I would like to mention this merely as food for thought. New York City has played host to ICFF every year for the last twenty (20) or so years, each time welcoming visitors (exhibitors and attendees alike) from around the globe. After all, it is The International Contemporary Furniture Fair. Until of course this year, when a young Iranian man was denied a visa, for reasons we can assume are related to the national security of the United States. Of course this is not the first time a visa has been denied, and as an expatriate American I can appreciate, sympathize with, and even understand the unique American perspective, but I can also assure everyone that there are far greater threats to American style freedom, than a designer from Iran.
Now for the “more below” on Florence Broadhurst. First launched in the United States at last year’s ICFF, the Florence Broadhurst Collection of rugs expanded this year to include more designs licensed from the estate of the late – and prolific – designer Florence Broadhurst.
Not since Lapchi first hit the rug scene (makes it sound all rock and roll) has there been so much buzz about a collection. Many of The Ruggist Confidants (ask for your own Ruggist Confidant Identifying Lapel Pin), have asked me about the collection, and they (the rugs) are generating quite the PR buzz in some cities. I can’t quite tell if their approach is Trade-Only or a Retail mix, nor have I asked, but regardless I find the rugs to be as fresh today, as Lapchi was in 2005/2006. Amidst a large sea of mediocrity of design, the rugs in the Florence Broadhurst Collection strike a chord that resonates with those seeking a rug that is more than just a pedestrian monochromatic beige floral. I guess we know what I think of beige florals now don’t we? The real question to ask, and this is true of any rug/designer/company, is: Will the collection prove to have the elusive staying power that blesses so few in the rug industry? Only time will tell.
Last year I did a rather exhaustive review of rug exhibitors at ICFF, and while I am making no such attempt to do as such this year, I do feel as though the final mention should go to someone whom I overlooked last year. Vidal and Segal Sasson at Rug Art. I made several attempts to stop by Rug Art’s booth this year but was unable to find a time (I tried at least eight to ten (8-10) times) when Mr. Sasson was not engaged by someone in the booth. I think this speaks highly of their appeal and so while I will/can not directly comment on their rugs, I’ll ask them to accept my apologies for last year’s oversight and wish them more of their continued appearant success.
Novel Once, Not Thrice.
Overall the rug designs at ICFF this year showed a lot of innovation which is more than I can say for many of the other exhibitors. To those showing the same product you’ve shown the last three years, please remember that ICFF is about marketing and new product and innovation, not about resting on your laurels, unless of course you are Herman Miller and you are selling the work of George Nelson. For your information: You’re not. If something you’ve shown before has been featured in: 1) More than three (3) shelter magazines. and 2) A curated museum exhibit on modern design. and 3) Is recognizable to someone not in your industry, it is time for something new.
As always, thank you for reading.
*Of course this blog is self-serving. It’s a blog. Not the New York Times.