Independent design is having a pretty great moment. So much experimentation and collaboration. Yesterday I managed to sneak out for a bit to catch the tail end of Sight Unseen Offsite, a showcase of mostly independent designers of housewares, furniture, ceramics, textiles, and a little bit of jewelry that runs for a few days every year in May. I made it with an hour left in the show, and I couldn’t be happier that I tore myself away from my computer to go.
Design tends to cycle between three poles: the body, the head, and the heart. When design is focused on the body, everything becomes physical. Designers play with balance, with comfort, with materials. Then we go through a moment where design is focused on the head, and everything becomes an intellectual exercise. Designs become thought experiments, expressions of ideologies. And then there are the sweet moments when design is all “heart.” It leads with the emotions, with color, texture, and form.
What I saw today, and what I’ve been seeing in fashion as well, is that design is in that “heart” moment, full of vibrant, exuberant energy. Occasionally it can get a little samey-samey, with the embrace of Memphis-style motifs (more on that below) appearing on everything, but overall it is hopeful to see so many independent designers thriving by putting joy out into the world.
Here are my favorite finds, and four joyful trends to keep an eye on.
1. Pigment, not paint
I saw a lot of designers using pigments to color materials intrinsically, rather than paint them. What this means is subtle colors with satin finishes and unique textural treatments. One of the things I like about this method is that it creates unpredictable, one-of-a-kind pieces because different colored materials can be mixed or layered. For example, I love Felt+Fat’s swirled porcelain plates (1), which are being snapped up by chefs because they make an incomparable canvas for inventive cuisine.
The revival of Memphis style, the Italian design movement from the 80s full of geometric shapes and bright colors, was heralded in 2014 by design writer Alissa Walker. (She describes it as PeeWee’s Playhouse meets Miami Vice, which is kind of an amazing summary.) Two years later, it feels like the neo-Memphis movement has fully taken root and designers are ratcheting up the squiggly, zigzag, confetti-like patterns with even more color and layering. Case in point: these towels, cushions, and clothes by DusenDusen (3, 5).
3. Quirky geometries
The other way Memphis is cropping up is in the quirky geometries that designers are embracing. Aelfie’s op-art patterned polygonal stools (4) were one example, Merve Kahraman’s circle and semi-circle chair and mirror design (2) are another.
4. Dusty brights
Lastly, an observation on color. I tend to favor bright, saturated colors over greyed out, muddy ones, but right now there’s a color palette that is like 90% bright with a hint of softness that is popping up everywhere. I love this, especially if you want to use a lot of different colors together. It’s got a kind of sun-bleached, midsummer vibe that is super-livable. One of my favorite examples from yesterday is pretty much everything by designer Dana Haim: textiles, rugs, and even those sweet little watercolor studies of her pattern designs (2, 3, 5, 6).
One of the best things about going to design shows like this is getting to know so many awesome new designers. Who are your favorite independent designers?
Moodboards composed with Trays