Design's new curve

Insiders to New York's design scene say the new look is lighter but still uses organic materials

Side tables from the Contour series by Brooklyn-based firm Bower.
Side tables from the Contour series by Brooklyn-based firm Bower.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

The Contour coffee table by the Brooklyn-based design firm Bower is one sexy piece of furniture.

It has a smooth curved base made of lacquered white wood, with a top of delicately veined Calacatta Paonazzo marble that is inset at one end with glass tinted peachy pink. The effect is cool and warm, contemporary and retro.

The Contour series (there are coffee, dining and side tables) is also one of the more striking examples of a nascent design trend.

For years, design in New York has been dominated by the "new vintage" look, with its love of taxidermy and salvaged barn wood, its nostalgia for dark hunting cabins and 19th-century gentleman's clubs.

What design insiders are seeing lately is a brighter, lighter and more contemporary aesthetic, one that still favours organic materials but with a more refined sensibility.

To Mr Glenn Adamson, director of the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, the look has a "lightness of touch, a low-key feeling".

For Mr Newell Turner, editorial director of the Hearst Design Group, there is "a lot of influence from Scandinavian design".

Jill Singer, co-founder of online magazine Sight Unseen, puts it this way: "Extremely sophisticated palette. Mixing of materials. It's been percolating for a long time."

Think 1970s instead of 1870s. Vancouver or Palm Springs instead of Brooklyn or Portland, Oregon.

The look was much in evidence at Sight Unseen Offsite, an annual design fair by Singer's publication, held in Manhattan last May to coincide with the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

Designers exhibiting at Offsite, including Bower, favoured blonde or bleached woods and polished metals such as brass and copper. Peach, white and sky-blue tones were in abundance; furniture and lighting mixed wood with sumptuous materials such as marble.

"Three years ago when we started, we made things only out of wood," said Mr Danny Giannella, who founded Bower with Mr Tammer Hijazi. "It was limiting and we liked mixing materials. We liked the veining of this marble."

They are not the only Brooklyn woodworkers experimenting with materials and embracing a look that is more crafted than reclaimed.

Mr Asher Israelow, who operates his eponymous studio out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, made his Lincoln chairs from black walnut but incorporated brass dowels.

"Polished brass has a lighter, ephemeral quality. In my shop, we're cutting brass as much as wood."

There is, it seems, a fatigue with mounted deer heads and chunky farm tables that overtook Brooklyn's hipper neighbourhoods over the last decade and was imported to parts of Los Angeles, Paris and elsewhere.

New York-based interior designer Frank de Biasi said the first time he visited Freemans, the Lower East Side restaurant stuffed with antiques and taxidermy that arguably kicked off the trend, he marvelled. "I thought it was the coolest thing to have something so rough, so undone. Would I want to live there? Probably not."

While it is fine to appreciate American heritage, he said: "We can move on, embrace something that's more designed."

So what is this new look called? Phrases such as new modernism and post-vintage have been bandied about, but so far nothing has stuck.

Nevertheless, the designers working in this lighter, more sophisticated vein have retained the core values of new vintage: handmade, organic materials, a respect for heritage and designed to last.

The so-called Brooklyn look continues to have fans, including Mr Turner, who says the celebration of natural materials in both styles makes for a good marriage.

De Biasi agreed. "The Brooklyn thing was all about reclaimed. This is about creating something new, but it's still based on something familiar. I wouldn't say it's the anti-Brooklyn. It's the next step."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2015, with the headline 'Design's new curve'. Print Edition | Subscribe