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A Weekend in NYC for ICFF 2024

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Over the course of two days, The Furni­ture Society explored Manhat­tan and Brook­lyn studios, galleries, fabri­ca­tion studios, and the ener­getic hub that is the Inter­na­tional Contem­po­rary Furni­ture Fair (ICFF).

Zeke Leonard

New York is one of those cities that you sort of have to deal with in chunks. Like any big city that I visit regu­larly, I have the places I tend to go and the places that I think oh, yeah, some­time I’ll have to venture over there,” but never quite seem to make the time to do it. The nice thing about going some­where with a differ­ent set of people is that I get forced to turn aside from my beaten track, and ICFF weekend was exactly that. 

We had a fairly packed sched­ule that ended up being able to be flex­i­ble in all of the best ways. It started in a vener­a­ble Soho dive with a small group of Board members and our AOD recip­i­ent this year John Kelsey. I came to this field a little later in my life, and as is true for many, Fine Wood­work­ing was my map and compan­ion as I started to figure out how to work with wood and to make func­tional objects, so it was a real treat to meet John and talk about furni­ture and beer. 

Unlike most of Canal Street, Toad Hall had not changed since I lived in the City, which was comfort­ing. As the first evening devel­oped we shared stories and news, catch­ing up in person in ways that can’t happen on Zoom, and gener­ally launched the weekend with just the right amount of like­li­hood that we would need a strong cup of coffee and an egg and cheese sand­wich in the morning. 

Satur­day was sched­uled for us to wander Red Hook in Brook­lyn visit­ing shops and show­rooms of furni­ture makers and design­ers. Red Hook (estab­lished in 1636 by the Dutch as Roode Hoek”) was for a long time an impor­tant ship­ping port, but after Robert Moses dug The Trench” for the Brook­lyn Queens Express­way this neigh­bor­hood was cut off from the rest of Brook­lyn in a strange way and has faced a number of chal­lenges. Lately, though, the prepon­der­ance of empty ware­houses has drawn makers and artists and design­ers, who of course have drawn bars and restau­rants and shops, to the point that Red Hook now is a pretty hip joint. We gath­ered at the ferry in south­ern Manhat­tan and hopped over to the County of Kings where we began our walk.

We acci­den­tally passed a coffee shop that Monica Hampton (TFS Exec­u­tive Direc­tor) knew, so we stopped there to gather a few more members before we headed to our first stop, Ottra Studios (@ottraxzw). Sofia and Adam Zimmer­man have a shop and a show­room there, where we saw the huge, sculp­tural furni­ture objects and archi­tec­tural compo­nents that they make. They stack lami­nate layers and CNC carve them to a rough shape before assem­bling them into the finished object and complet­ing the carving work by hand. The final result is stun­ning and surpris­ing, almost as surpris­ing as how clean the shop was. John looked at me and said you could eat off this floor!”

Our next stop was Liberty Studios, (@limen_studio, @recycledbrooklyn) a collec­tive of about a dozen makers who work at a variety of scales, from exper­i­men­tal synthe­sizer cases to confer­ence tables. As is common in this type of envi­ron­ment there is a central machine area with maker’s spaces adja­cent to it where they have their own bench areas. A partic­u­larly nice feature was a giant spray booth, large enough for several furni­ture pieces to be finished at one time. Admin­is­tra­tion is always on my mind so I asked one of the makers there how they deal with main­te­nance, and they answered that they act as a collec­tive, and that when clean­ing or repair needs to happen they come together and work out who is able to do that work and it works out pretty well, which was so nice to hear. Mutual support always makes me feel so hopeful, and the idea that this group of makers could do that in an ongoing way was really impressive.

Our last stop before lunch was Token/​Brightbound, design­ers and makers of lovely furni­ture with intri­cate CNC-cut marquetry (@tokennyc) and care­fully designed and assem­bled light­ing objects (@brightbound). The show­room was cool, but the real treat was the shop tour. They cut all of their veneer, and as an instru­ment-maker I was really inter­ested in their process, which Will Kavesh described as sort of a Franken­stein approach,” though it looked great to me and obvi­ously works well for them. They also machine all of their hard­ware in house, and we got to see some of that equip­ment as well. Those old 1940’s Bridge­ports are sculp­tural works of art in them­selves, and the incred­i­bly complex hard­ware that they were making by the piece was pretty stunning.

We were right across the street from Brook­lyn Crab, so we finished our morning with a lunch up on the roof deck with beer and cock­tails and general merri­ment, debrief­ing and chat­ting in the way that makes in-person events so important.

Sunday was the main event, of course, and as Furni­ture Society members we got to enter the hall an hour early. In a former life I have designed booths for ICFF and remem­ber well the last-minute scram­ble to get every­thing just so before people come in. This is what we walked through to get to the Oasis Lounge, repre­sen­ta­tives hanging drapes or straight­en­ing stacks of cata­logs or chang­ing the posi­tion of furni­ture to get the best angle facing out. There was a general energy of excite­ment in the air, and we were pretty jazzed too. We started with coffee and pastries where our group, combined with a tour group from The James Renwick Alliance, were welcomed by Monica, Kathryn Hall Asaro (TFS Board Pres­i­dent), Adrien Madlener — NY based writer, curator, and artist, and Odile Hainaut — Brand Direc­tor for ICFF. With our bellies and our brains sated and primed, we headed out across the floor.

I had not been to ICFF since about 2016, and it was inter­est­ingly differ­ent. The last time I attended it was a lot more about plas­tics, about blow-molded shapes or cast shapes. There was a lot of high-produc­tion stuff, and the makers were all sort of shoved over to one side of the hall. This year I am happy to report that the pendu­lum has swung back the other way: I saw a ton of booths that cele­brated craft, a lot of hand-work in wood and metal, glass and concrete.

I met the designer from @9and19, who is making textural concrete and wood furni­ture, and the folks @studiokloak who are carving cypress into organic lamp shapes. Philadel­phia-based artist @stephtrowbridge is carving and turning func­tional objects with a reli­quary feel, and I got to chat with the folks over @stickbulb, who are working with the NYC Parks Depart­ment to make lumber out of the trees that the Parks Depart­ment cuts down in city parks and turn them into sleek, contem­po­rary modular lighting objects.

In all, it was inspir­ing, illu­mi­nat­ing (intend your puns, say I) and got me excited to get back into the studio to start making work. Like most makers I know, I spend a lot of time looking at work in a digital space. This has its strengths, as it means that I am in regular contact with metal artists in Poland, thatch­ers in the UK, and heroes of mine like Wendy Marayuma in San Diego. The draw­back, of course, is that I still find conver­sa­tions in the digital space to be stilted and inor­ganic. Spend­ing time IRL with other members and makers of all types, from one-person shops to designer-led small-batch produc­tion outfits has an energy that I respond to with more verve and that allows for an inter­ac­tive flow that I expe­ri­ence to be more fruitful”.

John Kelsey

Attend­ing the ICFF weekend in NYC was a ton of fun for me. I met some old friends and made some new ones, and we got VIP entry to the show as it opened on Sunday morning. But for me the high­light was visit­ing furni­ture studios in Red Hook Brook­lyn — a lot more of them then I ever would have imag­ined, evidently success­ful, produc­ing high quality bespoke furni­ture one piece at a time the way we’ve always done it, with the recent addi­tion of amazing CNC tech­nol­ogy. One maker esti­mated that half or more of the work was now being done using these amazing machines, a fact that aston­ished me, until I saw the results in the work­shops and at the fair. I never would have had this access without the tour orga­nized by the Furniture Society.”