I saw an article today in the NYT about the demise of the Design Within Reach (DTW) stores. I can't say I'm surprised. The company started by peddling relatively inexpensive non-licensed knock-off versions of iconic 20th century furniture designs; been there, done that - does anyone remember Palazzetti (who I was surprised to still find in existence on the Web)? Realizing they needed more products to sell, DTW started designing and fabricating some of their own pieces in the 20th C modern style - I give them a few points for that. But, then, they started doing knock-offs of their own designs to sell them cheaper. We all know what happens when your product is produced so cheaply that it has a shelf life of one week when in use. To add insult to injury, a hedge fund has taken over DWR, and they put "famous" designers on the board - as if they can just wave their collective hands and make it trendy again by association.
Two thoughts come to mind as I think about this. One is the old addage that an original anything is better than than a mass produced copy of something. The other is that there are hundreds if not thousands of designers out there who could produce the next Barcelona chair if given a chance. Our society is so driven by the "brand" vs. quality - even if the brand (which may have once represented quality) is now schlock.
I found this sculptor, Tom Emerson, who makes pieces of furniture from junk. I was really drawn to the pieces I saw because they had a great shape and made interesting use of the materials:
I recently saw an exhibition of Nendo at the Museum of Arts and Design. This Japanese design firm's work knows no bounds, as it should be. The sight of their plastic chair with the perfect faux bois finish shows how powerful a simple statement can be. I think their reinterpretation of a bookshelf allows the user to be equally creative. I urge you to go to their website to review more of their work: http://www.nendo.jp/en/
Two of my favorite furniture designers are Carlo Bugatti and Harvey Ellis. Bugatti's work is over-the-top; his design sense was truly a singular voice; I'd describe it as a mash-up of the Aesthetic Style and a Moorish dream. The materials he used were as unconventional as his designs. 20 years ago you could pick up his pieces for a song, but not anymore.
I think Harvey Ellis' work represents the best of the Craftsman style furniture (other than the Greene Bros.).
This is what good design should be - original, visually interesting, functional, good construction, and without an expiration date. The next time you think about adding a piece of furniture into your life, look around and find an original piece of design. You'll never be disappointed; it will enrich your life and live on for other generations to enjoy.