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After years of recession-induced restraint, it appears that designers and furniture manufacturers just can't contain themselves any longer. During this year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which closed last week in New York, dramatic statements and playful hijinks were everywhere visitors turned – and not just on the expansive show floor, but throughout the city.

Vancouver's Omer Arbel, for one, hung his gorgeous glass Series 28 chandeliers from a sky-high cherry picker in front of an auto body shop and displayed his precious Series 19 brass bowls on the gritty sidewalk outside.

The lighting company Flos hired a tattoo artist to permanently ink patterns by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders into the skin of any visitor who dared accept the offer.

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And representatives of the foldable polypropylene Flux Chair repeatedly and acrobatically collapsed and then rebuilt their seats in the aisles of the fair, as if in a race.

But the most noticeable trend coursing through Manhattan's urban canyons was the continued blossoming of North American design, which started in earnest last year. After years spent in the shadows of European design, American and Canadian designers and manufacturers are increasingly claiming New York's design week as their own.

Here are a few of the highlights:


Many designers are mixing unlikely materials and colors to come up with products offering a delectable sense of contrast. Seattle's Iacoli & McAllister showed their Panca stool and Canvas side tables in a lumber warehouse in the NoHo Design District – both pieces are available in finishes that mix powder-coated steel frames in bright hues like aqua and tomato with subdued natural-wood tops.

Grain, a collective from Seattle, presented wall and hand mirrors with textile wrapping around the edges. At Areaware's ICFF booth, there were Bow Bins by German designer Cordula Kehrer, which mix colourful plastic components with rattan weaving, and the Alarm Dock by New York's Jonas Damon, a wooden docking station that turns your iPhone into a virtual, old-fashioned flip clock.

Making the old new again

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Prepare for a double take – plenty of designers were offering fresh twists on familiar furniture and objects. Rhode Island's O&G Studio presented modern, pared-down interpretations of Windsor chairs in a range of eye-catching hues.

Montreal studio Samare introduced the felted wool Fléché rug, which has zigzagging colors based on traditional Quebecois patterns, at the design store Matter.

And Finnish manufacturer Artek reissued Ilmari Tapiovaara's wooden Pirkka chairs and stools, which have forms so fresh you would never guess they were originally designed in 1955.


As the world gradually phases out energy-sucking incandescent light bulbs, designers continue to explore the many possibilities opened up by LEDs. Among chandeliers, there were a number of exciting options, including Bec Brittain's SHY Light at Matter (it's an angular cluster of brass, strung with LED light tubes) and Roll & Hill's Halo fixture by Paul Loebach (it casts a warm glow with four rings of LED light strips).

For the desk, there was Joby's Trapeze lamp created by San Francisco designer Peter Stathis, which rotates and balances at three different points so that it can be positioned any which way. For beside the reading chair, New York studio Rich Brilliant Willing introduced Quart table and floor lamps, which hide LED bulbs in slim, cylindrical shades.

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Purposeful playfulness

It wasn't all serious furniture for aesthetes at the fair. Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek proved that you don't actually need wood to create the feeling of a paneled cabin – his photorealistic Scrapwood wallpaper, which picked up the ICFF Editors Award for wallcovering, offered some seriously rustic trompe l'oeil.

At Kikkerland's booth, which always presents a range of humorous products, there were chip clips shaped like animal heads and bottle stoppers that looked like chess pieces, both designed by New York's David Weeks, who's better known for elegant lighting.

Soliciting visitor participation, Kikkerland was also taking votes on a range of product prototypes by Mexican designers to see which one it should produce – a set of bottle openers shaped like Mexican wrestlers seemed to have pinned down the hearts of most fairgoers.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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