Let’s face it: The universe is slowly imploding. Our news feeds continue to belch outrageous political rhetoric courtesy of a blowhard U.S. figurehead, those damn millennials are killing staples of American culture with reckless abandon (goodbye Kraft singles), and formerly beloved figures are rightfully being exposed as misogynistic predators. Did I mention that a dead sperm whale recently washed ashore in Indonesia with 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach, and that there are no more male northern white rhinoceroses?
None of these phenomena makes me feel even remotely at ease about existing in the Anthropocene (except perhaps the demise of American cheese), but that’s fine, because I have design. Making lemonade out of sour times, some of this year’s best design work channels our anxieties into products and environments that are inventive, playful, and challenging. They galvanize the imagination and question preconceived notions of how furniture—and maybe the world at large—can and should function. These pieces offer temporary refuge from the seemingly unending plunge into the void of bad taste and unscrupulous waste unfolding all around us. When checking Twitter is akin to metamorphosing into the head-exploding emoji, designers help convey that it doesn’t have to be this way. Something else is possible. Somewhere. Here.
Ian Cochran at “In Good Company”
Designer and sculptor Ian Cochran turned heads at “In Good Company: Material Culture,” a September exhibition that spotlighted emerging talent, held at Fernando Mastrangelo’s studio in East New York, Brooklyn. The lead fabricator for Mastrangelo and an apprentice to fellow sculptor Nick Van Woert, Cochran embodied the exhibition’s post-industrial ethos with the solid-cast resin-and-acrylic Plump Table, whose jigsaw-like pieces fall perfectly into place. It’s an impressive foray into furniture. We hope he keeps at it.
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Susan for Susan’s Acetone Erosions
John and Kevin Watts, the self-taught brothers behind Toronto studio Susan for Susan (named after their mother), frequently experiment with chemical processes. One such venture yielded Acetone Erosions, a series of delightfully lumpy one-offs in tantalizing chromas. The siblings create molds by dispensing acetone onto large polystyrene blocks, then casting a cement mixture inside. Gentle luminaires light up the fixtures’ stalactite-like surface, and haphazardly placed appendages give the human-size lamps bursts of personality.
KAWS and the Campana Brothers at Design Miami
Is there a medium KAWS wouldn’t tackle? The renowned sculptor, graffiti artist, and pop culture aficionado joined forces with Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana to create a limited-edition series of seating for Friedman Benda’s Design Miami showcase. Each piece features a sewn-together assortment of monochromatic stuffed animals—easily recognizable as the cartoonish figures KAWS uses in his oeuvre—overlaid on a metal armature.
Both parties reported a seamless collaboration, and by our estimates, each piece was liked nearly four billion times on Instagram by the time the fair wrapped.
Objects of Common Interest and Falke Svatun
What happens when you combine Scandinavian sensibilities with New York know-how? That’s the question Norway x New York, a collaborative group exhibition at Sight Unseen Offsite, sought to answer this year. Objects of Common Interest, founded by husband-and-wife team Leonidas Trampoukis and Eleni Petaloti, teamed up with Oslo-based designer Falke Svatun to create the pleasantly plump Tube Chair. Originally ideated via Skype sessions, Tube draws its form from intersecting curves that act as a singular bouncy lounge seat, a loveseat for two, or a casual leaning element. It’s at once abstract yet warm and enveloping.
Chris Schanck at Friedman Benda
Situated near the entrance at Friedman Benda’s fall exhibition “Under the Night Sky” was a piece that simultaneously stunned, bemused, and captivated visitors. “Invasion,” an anthropomorphic console-table hybrid by Detroit-based Chris Schanck, embraces the artist’s most provocative contradictions—themes of dilapidation and assemblage, the individual and the collective, the industrial and the handcrafted, romanticism and cynicism—all shine through the gnarled ombre-hued personages. It may very well be Schanck’s most enthralling work yet.
Nendo’s Disaster-Relief Toilet
After large-scale disasters such as the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, Nendo founder Oki Sato started thinking: How can we streamline relief efforts for affected communities, especially during periods of paralyzed infrastructure? He found himself applying Nendo’s signature pared-down pragmatism to rethink a relief effort essential, and an object most of us take for granted: the toilet. “Minimlet” is composed of four aluminum poles, a lightweight plastic toilet seat, and a nylon privacy screen to virtually re-create a familiar loo. It’s a virtual 180 from the in-your-face maximalism seen in previous entries, but one with far-reaching impact if it gets picked up.
Wentrcek/Zebulon’s 706 Chair
The 706 Chair by Brooklyn-based design duo Wentrcek/Zebulon was actually released in 2017, but since it stole the show at this year’s “This Is Not a Chair,” the inaugural exhibition at Plant Seven in High Point, we’re bending the rules. What’s that strange-looking cushion material, you ask? It’s a natural rubber commodity imported from Vietnam that’s extremely dense, resists manipulation by common tools, and must be cut using a high-pressure water-jet cutter. It’s also super fun to touch (this writer may or may not have spent 20 minutes at their studio poking samples of the material and experiencing unadulterated joy). Its jarring contrast with the Corian base lends intrigue and a strange, discomforting elegance.
Misha Kahn at Nomad Monaco
Misha Kahn recently shared one of his outlandish floor lamps on Instagram, declaring December 18, 2018, as “Sensible Lighting Tuesday.” Reflecting on his body of work, we wish every day fell under that moniker. For Friedman Benda’s presentation at collectible design fair Nomad Monaco, which took place inside the former home of Karl Lagerfeld, the Brooklyn daredevil presented a stainless-steel coffee table among over a dozen other imaginative works. We’ll let the table’s name do the rest of the talking: Back Bend Starfish Puts on All Her Jewels for Her Workout.
Bec Brittain and John Hogan
It may seem obvious that a lighting designer and a glassblower would approach craftsmanship from wildly different perspectives. But when Bec Brittain and John Hogan discovered an equal gravitation toward each other’s work, which both riff on celestial bodies, a creative partnership was born. To accommodate the substantial weight of Hogan’s iridescent glass spheres, spears, and bent cylinders, Brittain re-engineered her existing Aries system in a limited-edition run of aluminum instead of brass. The constellation-like result is a subtle yet striking study in contrast and cooperation for both parties.
Michael Anastassiades and Bang & Olufsen
This year, I found myself retreating into my noise-canceling headphones, often for hours a day, taking solace in the sonic innovations of Yves Tumor, SOPHIE, Arca, and yes, Kacey Musgraves. When the current political climate makes you wish that Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely” was an instruction manual instead of a seminal sadness anthem, can you really blame me? But Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSound Edge, designed by Michael Anastassiades, imparts a sense of purpose strong enough to bring even the most introverted listener out of their shell. The acclaimed lighting designer eliminated visual complexity and superfluous elements in their entirety to create a boldly minimalist speaker that sparks the imagination.