Insights //

Our thoughts about things that interest, inspire, and motivate us.


The key insight to draw from obser­va­tions of the world of con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture design is that even in the upper ech­e­lons of con­tem­po­rary design green think­ing is becom­ing the norm.

Ismael Quintero of iQ Environments showcasing his fantastic Odyssey Light.

Ismael Quin­tero of iQ Envi­ron­ments show­cas­ing his fan­tas­tic Odyssey Light.

Con­tem­po­rary art and design is often thought of as that which is removed from our grounded, daily exis­tence with mean­ing or func­tion that is often dif­fi­cult to grasp in prac­ti­cal terms. Fur­ni­ture is no excep­tion. Design­ers and artists exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als, struc­tures, and aes­thetic treat­ments to push the bound­aries of expres­sion and inno­va­tion. The results are var­ied with suc­cesses and fail­ures both in prac­ti­cal terms as well as in artis­tic merit. The divide between nature and human­ity can often be ampli­fied in this process. How­ever, at the 2011 ICFF (Inter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary Fur­ni­ture Fes­ti­val) in New York City, a dif­fer­ent trend was shown reflect­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent than what his­tory has shown us.

Weplight’s Autentica lamps.  Real wood lighting up people’s lives in a stylish way.

Weplight’s Aut­en­tica lamps. Real wood light­ing up people’s lives in a styl­ish way.

Con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture design flour­ished after the Sec­ond World War and from that point, had var­i­ous stages and styles within its evo­lu­tion. The devel­op­ment of mod­ernism was spurned by ear­lier work by design­ers such as Alvar Aalto and his exper­i­men­ta­tion in the 1930’s with lam­i­nate wood chairs such as his Model No. 41 show­ing organic and sim­ple forms. Mar­cel Lajos Breuer show­cased a more indus­trial model of design with effi­ciency and clean lines being under­ly­ing fea­tures of his Bauhaus–influ­enced work. In the late 30’s and into the 40’s Breuer’s career flour­ished in Amer­ica where he was influ­enced by Aalto’s work and he became one of the key play­ers in the devel­op­ment of the Mod­ernist move­ment – where afford­able fur­ni­ture for the masses was an under­ly­ing prin­ci­ple. Her­man Miller has been a fur­ni­ture design com­pany that has with­stood the test of time since its for­ma­tion in 1923. They have a very com­pre­hen­sive envi­ron­men­tal design approach for their prod­ucts and are rec­og­nized as one of today’s lead­ers in this area. His­tory has shown the ebb and flow of fur­ni­ture design based on var­i­ous eco­nomic pres­sures and social trends. The ques­tion is: what pat­terns are we see­ing today and how really do design processes and envi­ron­men­tal per­spec­tives mesh?

Urban Zen’s calming and grounded wood furniture.

Urban Zen’s calm­ing and grounded wood furniture.

Green design” is more than a fad or a buzz­word as it has a deep foun­da­tion of sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal knowl­edge behind it. Fur­ni­ture design requires func­tional con­sid­er­a­tions, aes­thetic aware­ness, mar­ket knowl­edge, and an under­stand­ing of the fab­ri­ca­tion process. The wave of envi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness that has sur­faced (or re-surfaced) over the past few years has main­streamed “green” engi­neer­ing and design tech­niques that have devel­oped over the past fifty years. Envi­ron­men­tally con­scious con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture must account for the life cycle of the prod­uct from its incep­tion through to the end of its life (LCA – Life Cycle Assess­ment). This means that the energy and mate­ri­als used to fab­ri­cate the prod­uct must be quan­ti­fied and their envi­ron­men­tal impact min­i­mized. Car­bon emis­sions from energy used in fab­ri­ca­tion should be min­i­mized, health impacts from tox­i­c­ity of mate­ri­als must be min­i­mized, and the envi­ron­men­tal impact from mate­ri­als used must be reduced through recy­cling or biodegra­da­tion. The var­i­ous design­ers show­cas­ing their new prod­ucts at the ICFF showed sig­nif­i­cant progress in envi­ron­men­tally con­scious design.

Live Edge Design showcasing their refurbished wood furniture

Live Edge Design show­cas­ing their refur­bished wood furniture

Wood was the mate­r­ial of choice at the 2011 ICFF in New York. There were var­i­ous takes on how to imple­ment wood as the build­ing mate­r­ial but there was an over­whelm­ing pres­ence of design­ers who chose wood (pri­mar­ily sus­tain­ably har­vested) as their build­ing mate­r­ial. John Housh­mand, Wep­light, Shimna, loll­trade, Urban Zen and Phillips Col­lec­tion all demon­strated very unique and cre­ative ways of using wood in con­tem­po­rary design. The Art of Board show­cased their wall cov­er­ings which are made from recy­cled skate­boards – very cool. A DE favourite, Nana­mar­quina from Spain, stood out with their amaz­ing work – one of which is a trade­mark rug made from old bicy­cle tire tubes. One of the high­lights of the ICFF was talk­ing with Ismael Quin­taro of iQ envi­ron­ments. His Odyssey Light is a remark­able green con­cep­tion that uses melted recy­cled glass applied to casts cre­ated from fire hydrants in New York. These lights are a true trib­ute to a great city. Bravo Ismael! The ICFF is a show­case event for con­tem­po­rary design and it was clear that envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able design meth­ods are preva­lent in the indus­try today.

More examples of refurbished wood being used as a key design element.

More exam­ples of refur­bished wood being used as a key design element.

The key insight to draw from obser­va­tions of the world of con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture design is that even in the upper ech­e­lons of con­tem­po­rary design green think­ing is becom­ing the norm. This implies that the green wave that is seen through­out the media and busi­ness is for real. It is man­i­fest­ing itself in things as con­crete as mate­ri­als selec­tion in fur­ni­ture and dec­o­ra­tion. We are just at the start of a very big shift in the way we design the world we live in and DE is look­ing for­ward to play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in this evo­lu­tion­ary process.

Check out more pho­tos from our visit to the Inter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary Fur­ni­ture Fair on Flickr!