Give Home Office a Spry New Look

WASHINGTON POST

In keeping with America's workaholic tendencies, furniture designers have turned their attention to the home office.

It's more fun than it sounds.

Lively offerings were spotted at the annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair here last month. A spry little computer cart from Blu Dot, with apple green side panels, was bright enough to enliven the drabbest workspace decor. Offi's birch plywood bedside table-cum-magazine rack offered this novel possibility: Set it on end, and it becomes a laptop stand.

The old sawhorse table became a couture statement in the workshop of Santora Melone. The designers crafted elegant walnut sawhorses for legs, then attached a stylish worktop by turning two screws and wing nuts.

As useful as those designs could be, they couldn't compare with the fun of tilting back in Maarten van Severen's power-napping chair. Just flip and flop on this minimalist black-and-chrome lounger from Vitra. The body of the chaise consists of the thinnest slice of contoured polyurethane. It pivots on a slim tubular base. The mechanism is so fluid that flipping back to "full repose" requires blind confidence.

Time that siesta with New Yorker Constantin Boym's fanciful rubber-band clock. He created the prototype for a collection called Re-Decoration: Design Beyond Minimalism, which includes his taxicab chair made of wooden balls. The clock is essentially a white plate over which multicolored rubber bands have been stretched to mark the hours. Designers at Benza made their new wall clock out of paper clips.

For sound-softening qualities with modern style, Dune's new sweater-knit textile would be suitable for upholstering the walls. Or, cover the desktop with Dune's lizard-like Gecko vinyl fabric, which comes in 19 fashion colors. The line includes chenille, iridescent taffeta and the same sateen polyester used to make designer backpacks. All will be priced from $35 to $75 a yard.

"Our fabrics won't appeal to everyone," says Dune founder Richard Shemtov, who gathered the collection from European sources. "But there is a market for it."

Have fun decorating, but take the lighting seriously. That was the message at Moss, the SoHo design shop of the much-respected Murray Moss. He had staged a display of architectural lights called Beam. The ceiling-hung fixtures were designed by Antonio Citterio and Oliver Low for the Flos lighting company. On this occasion, Moss had strung them like low-hanging I-beams on a crazed construction site.

"These are supposedly the most technically sophisticated light fixtures," Moss said of the minimalist industrial gray planks. He had set them off with candles--"the most simple, ancient form of light."

Not yet ready for prime time, but worthy of discussion, was a prototype of a flexible furniture unit aimed at fluid lifestyles. The design, by Ferda Kolatan of the New York firm SU11, would accommodate working, sleeping and entertaining in a small space.

Kolatan calls the model "space furniture," meaning more than furniture, not quite a whole space. The firm's Web site explains, "We are interested in rethinking and conceptualizing architectural space in relation to the increasingly changing lifestyle of our digital age and its complex programmatic configurations in urban culture."

At the fair, Kolatan said, "One of the main issues is that our everyday life routines are getting more complex." People might work for an hour, then relax with friends or catch up on sleep. "So many more people work as freelancers instead of going to an office," he noted. Traditional interiors haven't come to grips with the flexibility required.

The model on view consisted of four individual units that fit together. They were made chiefly of Wilsonart laminate, with a slim cushion of Technogel where comfort would be required. But the concept was more important than the materials. Kolatan could envision a loft with multiple units, with an option to rent. He imagined "$600 in New York, someplace else $200."

Wilsonart spokesman Alison DeMartino cautioned, "We don't know where it goes from here."

We all went to an event at the Apartment, where a Dutch collection called Do Create was being launched. I tried out the Do Swing chandelier. Like the other designs in the collection, it was meant to be acted upon.

One of our group was brave enough to order a rubberized porcelain vase called Do Break, which can be hurled without coming apart. For $150, it might relieve the stress of working at home faster than a nap in Van Severen's chaise.

Either way, Dakota Jackson, dean of American contemporary furniture designers, suggests that good design is becoming an American way of life. Although he sells his high-end furniture through the trade, he made his mark during the fair by opening a public space in SoHo, which he calls DumbBox.

"It's a study center, not a showroom," he said on opening night. Instead of selling furniture, Jackson will flash informational clips on a giant screen 24 hours a day, his method of taking design directly to the people.

"Design is a culture," Jackson said. "You can't hold it back anymore."

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