May 19, 2008

DT@ICFF, Or Should I Say ICNCFF?

DT@ICFF: Kloss

The ICFF was hopping on the first day, Saturday, but for all the buzz, I couldn't help wondering how it compared to the blowouts last year at CNC Router Expo '07 and Laminated PlyFair. And it wasn't just the kid designers, either.


The Norwegian firm Kloss [above] was showing one of the most varied collections of the genre, three different kids chairs by Ole Petter Wullum. For some reason, they didn't bring Wullum's [Petter Wullum's? Where to Norwegian last names start?] cool Puzzle stool [above] or the matching table, too. Kindergartens in Norway must be little design paradises where kids sit on furniture they built themselves and draw the aurora borealis or design cell phones or something.


The kid's chair on view at Context Furniture's booth deserves a better picture than the one I took. The Truss Collection is designed by Scott Klinker, and it's one of the mainstay lines Context uses to keep their make-to-order production facilities busy. Context has the added benefit of being in Detroit [1], the city in America with possibly the greatest combination of urbanity, industrial-scale space, and creative production opportunity. It's hopping. The Truss chair runs $150/ea., and the table is $295.

DT@ICFF: Link Studio

Link Studios is a San Francisco-based collaboration between two designers, Charlie Sheldon and Dylan Gold. Sheldon's designs for slot-together furniture are "mass-customizable" in their dimensions, the laminate, the substrate, and any surface etching or designs. The benches and table they were showing at ICFF were FSC ply with Formica, for example.

I put the "mass customizable" in quotes because Link's offering really points up the potential and the limits of this increasingly widely available production technology. Sheldon told me how much work had to go into refining the designs so that they'd actually work across a wide range of dimensions. But though it's all automated, the CNC process doesn't really provide much opportunity for mass-production-style cost savings; the furniture is still made to order one at a time. Which is another way of saying, a table and bench set will run you around $6-700.

Meanwhile, check out the sweet Little House on the Prairie painting on Link's website. I want to know more, much more.

Kloss []
Context Furniture []
Link Studios []

[1] there seems to be a question among Detroiters about how far out in the suburbs you can be and still be in Detroit. Jim [JDG] of Sweet Juniper, who lives in the downtown of downtown Detroit, is of the view that Royal Oak is a bit too safe to capture the full monumentality of the urban ruination. The Context folks, who operate out of the city's first mall--a, over-engineered repurposed artifact of a slightly different genre, which apparently includes underground loading docks for semis to accommodate retail on an industrial scale--might point out that 2,000 sf of studio space is still $300/mo in neighborhoods without packs of feral dogs, too. The only thing I'm sure of: as a guy who only visits Detroit via Google Maps, I got no credibility in matters of Detroit realness. Also, that we can all agree that mayor is batshit crazy. He's also more than two decades younger than Marion Barry was when the bitch set him up. Even if he goes now, Kilpatrick's gonna be back.


Good find! nice looking stuff:-]

I've coveted the context line of kids chairs for a few years. alas, they're not from detroit, but the tranquil oakland county suburb of royal oak, which is where most young, design-savvy white people in southeast michigan actually rest their heads at night. context has an interesting philosophy, but I just wish they had the balls to locate themselves in the city.

I do wish some company would see the existing manufacturing infrastructure in the city (along with our shocking unemployment) and take advantage of it to create a product here (like cool furniture). there would be so much goodwill. it would out-hip american apparel in half a second.

JDG is misinformed. Unfortunate. We do receive our mail in Royal Oak, but I thought we made it clear in our conversation at the ICFF that we are in old infrastructure. Any one is free to contact us to talk more about how Detroit's economy and how the community can revitalize itself through innovation and positive community interaction.
Kerry Moore
Context Furniture Mfg
Design Democracy 08

notice kerry doesn't actually say context is in detroit.

it's not a big deal, but I really do love to celebrate businesses that believe in this city enough to do business here. and I feel it is necessary to point out when businesses (and people) make claims of being located in the city when really they are not.

just saw your evolving postscript greg.

it's probably very confusing to people from other cities, but the suburb/city divide in detroit is unlike anywhere else in the country. royal oak and context's facilities are on the other side of eight mile road, the traditional dividing line between oakland county (one of the wealthiest counties in the USA) and the city of detroit. unlike cities such as st. louis, philadelphia, newark, and even baltimore, detroit doesn't really have any "white" or truly gentrified neighborhoods. almost all the white people packed up and left the city generations ago. they took all their money with them, and for generations they've done their damnedest not to give any of it back. in other words, the urban/suburban divide here is very stark.

suburban cities like royal oak operate almost like typical gentrified neighborhoods in other big cities: little boutiques, coffee shops, modern furniture stores, and all that crap. it's a nice place, but detroit it ain't.

why am I making such a big deal about this? probably because it's annoying. it appears context is trying to gain the credibility of being from "detroit" without having to deal with any of the actual pains in the ass of doing business in detroit (inflated insurance rates, security costs, paying taxes to support a corrupt government, actually having to go there every day).

the truth is I'd love to see them doing what they do in detroit just as I'd love to see any innovative manufacturers, especially those making cool furniture, invest in the city. I'd be there to welcome them with open arms.

but going to new york and telling everyone you're helping to revitalize detroit's economy when you're not even located in the city? I've got too many friends actually working to revitalize detroit's economy not to call context out on that.

beautiful furniture though, no doubt.

[I hate going back and changing text, but I feel like I've stepped in it a bit on this one. I either exacerbate or exemplify the problem by talking about it with my own limited understanding. The distinction you make seems very clear and logical. But I can also see how people living in whatever suburb identify with the city itself, even if they're actually not in it. If the Context folks don't make quite the distinction, I confess, I didn't either. When I asked them if they were based in "that giant factory by Albert Kahn," they said, "the Russell Industrial Center? No, we're in.." that dead mall they're in, I forget. It sounded decaying enough to me. To be honest, I think I initially confused them with MAP. -ed.]

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