Special Report: Contemporary Furniture Trends

By Jennifer Baker on June 24th, 2006

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) recently held its annual trade fair at the Jacob Javits div in New York City. Over 500 exhibitors from over 20 countries were represented. Countries as far flung as Turkey, Peru, and Thailand showed the latest of their furniture and furnishings designs.

A survey of the ICFF exhibits reveal the recurring inspiration for designers came from green/sustainable design, versatility demands, and unique materials.

What qualifies as green/sustainable design? Green design protects people's health and well-being. For instance, green products should not emit toxic gases. Sustainable design protects the environment and conserves it for future generations. It doesn't deplete scarce materials such as endangered trees and takes advantage of existing resources or recycles materials.

Up and coming furniture designers are applying their eco-friendly ethos to their inspired designs. Instead of further depleting shrinking forests, many take advantage of reclaimed lumber and use it as their source to create craftsman furniture. Others are searching the earth for easily replenishable trees or plants to provide building materials.

Andrew Moe of Moe Design Studio recovered spalted maple from the flooring of a closed Tennessee factory and turned it into coffee tables. He updated the traditional look of the honey maple by matching it with glass tops — creating a contemporary design for today's home. Moe has also used heart pine and red oak woods from a Connecticut lumberyard specializing in reclaimed lumber.

SMC Furnishings Headboard
Moe Design Studio Coffee Table

SMC Furnishings from the Finger Lakes region of New York have also reclaimed walnut, herry, white pine, poplar and hickory and created tables, bed headboards, stools and benches. Even a crack in its tree rings becomes the divpiece of design for a side table.

Iannone:Sanderson Design Kirei Cabinet

Another designer has used the stalks of the sorghum plant grown in China to form a composite of agricultural fibers. Sorghum is grown abundantly for food and its stalks are usually just burned or thrown out in landfills. By using sorghum stalks for building material, waste and air pollution is reduced. The resulting board, called kirei, can be used as building material for furniture, walls, and flooring. James Sanderson of Iannone:Sanderson Design has designed a lyrical mix of the eco-friendly rustic kirei board and the more urban gloss white laminate — as reflected in this cabinet, Signature 2.0.

Rattan shows off its versatility and eco-friendliness in the outdoor furniture of Kenneth Cobonpue from the Philippines. Rattan is a palm that can grow in degraded forests and existing forests without harming existing trees. Its ease of harvest and growth has turned rattan into a popular material for furniture, basketry and building construction. Cobonpue and his decades old family firm have created new sexy designs for rattan over steel frame in his chairs, ottomans, and outdoor settees. Rattan's flexibility is shown in the sinuous curves of this patio chair and settee.

Kenneth Cobonpue Rattan Chair
Kenneth Cobonpue Rattan Settee

Sheer Company Egg Kitchen Jackie Choi from London designed the first ever bed/coffee table. For those with studios or just minimalist tastes, Choi created the Maru roller bed. Inside this curvy rectangular box is a regular bed, but from underneath, the table top rolls out its slats — much like a garage door — and covers the bed and instant coffee table!

Another versatile product hails from Austria: Xpand tables. Xpand Furniture uses bamboo for its indoor tables, acacia and teak for its outdoor tables. Their specialty is transforming modest sized dining tables into party-sized tables. Using an accordion style construction, a simple pull of the table's end will stretch a small 4 person square table to a 10 person table. This can come in handy for those with non-existent dining rooms of city apartments.

Sheer Company Egg Kitchen

Speaking about city dwellers: haven't got space for a kitchen? Try this compact egg shaped kitchen in an egg-citing new shape. The Sheer Company from Italy has designed the ultimate in compact kitchens. Though restricted to an oval shaped container, this egg kitchen is unlimited in function. The egg boasts of a circular worktop, double sink, four burners, three bottle coolers, a retractable table and trolleys. The top half of the egg lifts electronically by remote control from the bottom half exposing the work space. Work lights are inserted in the top half of the egg for enhanced utility. When closed, the egg appears to be a life sized sculpture.

A flat wall unit may be also added that contains hooks for hanging folding chairs (to match the retractable table) and china and glassware displays. Maximum use at minimum space!

The egg kitchen is also made from a unique material. Instead of using the usual stainless steel, Sheer's designer created the shell from carbon fiber, much lighter in weight and more stain resistant than stainless steel.

Other unique materials we saw at the ICFF show were the resin sculpted furniture by Martha Sturdy of Vancouver, Canada. Sturdy, a sculptor by training, hand molds her tables and chairs using a special gelcoat resin that is used in shipbuilding. The result is a rigid, sturdy material that has a wide range of beautiful translucent colors from amber to shimmering sea blue.

Discerning children of design-hungry parents have also selections to cheer about. Offi from Tiburon, California is offering little ones pint-sized furniture in EVA foam. The foam is comfortable, lightweight yet strong and sturdy, and easily washable, great selling points to a parent. The furniture comes in kid-friendly bright colors of pink, orange, blue and yellow.

Scottish designer, Jan Milne, applies a fresh face to furniture made from Perspex, an acrylic brand. Using her textile design background, Milne creates colorful floral and geometric prints on clear acrylic tables and chairs.

Jan Milne Acrylic Tables
Jan Milne Floral Table

Whether designing with the environment in mind or space-challenged clients, designers brings many inspirational ideas to the fore. Despite the diversity of clients and the variety of needs, ICFF has proven that people the world over are united in looking for quality, environmentally friendly design and innovative ways to solve their problems.