So I've been thinking about the Lawson-Fenning collection Nurseryworks introduced this week at ICFF, which combines some modernist design elements with very traditional furniture references--things like turned bedposts, thickly padded headboards, and wingback rockers.
It definitely caught me by surprise when I saw it, and I see that I'm not the only person scratching his head. [Well maybe I'm the only one scratching his head; the commenters on Jenn's Lawson-Fenning post at Minor Details so far are all women.]
Here's what I've been thinking: by partnering with Lawson-Fenning, a high-profile, design and decorating firm whose focus is on "high-end" more than just "high modern," Nurseryworks is trying to break out of the modernist nursery niche they helped found. [update: whoa, full stop. I'm looking at Nurseryworks' site now, and ALL their signature designs are credited to Lawson-Fenning. Every piece of furniture not by Truck. So yeah. What a difference above-the-line credit makes, I guess.]
It's no secret that the modern nursery market has gotten crowded in the last couple of years. I've got nothing at all against Litto Studio, Ecotots, Roberto Gil, and a handful of other clean, modern-style nursery furniture startups, but I also can't pretend to be all excited about the introduction of yet another $1,300 Netto-lookin', clean, white lacquer crib and changing table set.
When the US modernist nursery movement began five years ago, the major baby furniture manufacturers were totally absent [and for the most part, they still are.] There was Ikea or David Netto, and maybe Stokke, and a couple of woodworkers, and that was it. Then Oeuf and Nurseryworks came along, then Argington and ducduc.
Nurseryworks always made an attempt to differentiate their designs with decorative options like their shaped panels and slats, and all their fabric options and whatnot. But by now the modernist niche is full, and what passes for modernist design and innovation is an amazingly narrow near-cliche.
And you know what, the modern style lover market is not as huge as modernists like to think it is, and it's certainly not the only segment where people are willing to drop more than $1000 on a crib. In fact, I'd guess that with the Lawson-Fenning collaboration, Nurseryworks is reaching out to a far larger segment of the deep-pocket market than the designhound ghetto they've been focused on for the last four-plus years.
[How small is small? Remember when those David Netto cribs were recalled last year for a manufacturing defect? The number of cribs affected hinted that in 2004, the company was making around 200 cribs/month. Ikea can make 200 cribs an hour using the sawdust from just one Vietnamese assembly line.]
So if the design*sponge squarepants crowd is bummed because Nurseryworks didn't launch a hand-drawn owl collection this year, and if the unrepentantly cheap modernists are pissed because there's no $300 crib made from reclaimed high school gym bleachers, either, at least we can all rest easy knowing that Nurseryworks will survive the inevitable modern market downturn/shakeout. And more importantly, there'll be at least one less PoshTots Princess Fantasy Nursery in the McMansions of West LA.