Now in its 13th year, Design Miami is always one of the more entertaining design fairs. The neon and sunshine vibe of South Beach somehow infiltrating the mood, inside what’s essentially a large tent in a parking lot neighbouring the behemoth that’s Art Basel. A fair of two halves, there’s the veteran dealers displaying 20th-century design classics, such as Prouve, Nakashima and Brazilian masters like Sergio Rodriguez and then the gallerists who push the boundaries with new works by contemporary designers, in experimental materials and expressive forms. Some galleries do both.
This year’s fair felt more low-key than usual, with a move towards design that emphasised honesty, sustainability and craft. John Keith Russell presented a range of 19th-century Shaker furniture, Liz Swig of Lizworks debuted a homage to oatmeal (yes, really) with the sustainability maestros the Campana Brothers and there were gargantuan furniture pieces woven from bamboo by the Starn brothers.
Even more indicative of this shift was the Mwabwindo School project being the recipient of the 2017 Panerai Design Miami Vision Award. This charitable collaboration between 14+ Foundation, Selldorf Architects, artist Rashid Johnson and designers Christ & Gantenbein, who are donating their services for free, is building a primary school in rural southern Zambia. It’s due for completion in 2018.
Thirty-three galleries from nine countries exhibited this year, with eleven Curio booths - which are dedicated to emerging designers and galleries. Here’s our pick of the best booths:
Albert Frey and Gertrud & Otto Natzler at Converso
Sublime in its understated simplicity, the booth of gallerist Lawrence Converso is devoted to never-seen-before furniture by the great Swiss-born modernist Albert Frey. A vision of pared-back pieces in washed pine plywood, pale green and cream, they were created in 1949 for the Palm Springs home of his longtime companion Elise Wolfe.
“These are pieces purpose built for the interior, with some things from Frey's house which was destroyed and also his office.” Converso obtained the pieces from a dealer who had purchased them after Wolfe died several years ago. He decided to show them at Design Miami to mark the opening of his new showroom in Los Angeles, which follows his Chicago and New York outposts.
The furniture is paired with a series of ceramics in diverse glazes from the same period by the Natzlers. This husband-and-wife duo emigrated from Austria to the US during the Second World War and went on to become leading ceramicists of the 20th century. Wife Gertrud threw the forms, Otto mixed and applied the glazes. “He got really technical,” says Converso, picking out a deep blue vase covered in tiny stars. “|This crystalline snowflake effect is one of their most prized glazes and the three dots underneath the pot mean it’s one of his favourites.”
Welcome! by Chiara Andreatti for Fendi
Following the huge success of last year’s hit, the pastel hued Happy Room by Cristina Celestino, Fendi return for the 10th year with “Welcome!”, a living room with a markedly different aesthetic by Chiara Andreatti. Natural tones and materials dominate in a space that celebrates the artisanal, from the coco fibre herringbone mat and oversized ceramics to seating featuring woven hemp. Inspiration is far reaching, with lamps that hover like dragonflies and nods to African tribal pottery.
“The concept is inspired by Gabrielli Crespi and the Italian bourgeoisie of the Seventies”, the 36-year-old Veneto-born designer explains, “also natural materials, I love to travel and discover new craft techniques. It’s the first time I’ve used bamboo and also parchment paper for the lamps.” The iconic motifs of Fendi are in the details, such as the Cuoio Romano leather trim replicated on the lamp shades’ edges, and in the twisted brass border of the neon “luminaire” which also encompasses plant holders.
It’s also the first time Andreatti has used raw hemp, which has been woven by craftspeople in Brianzi to provide the finely interlaced pyramid-patterned support for two walnut-coloured throne-like wooden seats. Meanwhile, carpets handknotted in Himalayan wool feature a graphic pattern that echoes Fendi’s Punta Selleria stitch. At the centre an asymmetric sofa upholstered in Fendi's striped Pequin velvet anchors the space. A lovely addition are Andreatti's watercolour illustrations of previous editions of the Design Miami project.
AirBnB presents A Wild Thing by Muller Van Severen
Recreating facsimile's of genuine spaces is a bit of a thing. We've had Sir Peter Blake's studio at Frieze and now designers Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen - better known as Muller Van Severen - have brought their Ghent living room to Design Miami. And who doesn't love to snoop around people's private realms, particularly if they're creatives. It's a cosy, self-enclosed haven away from the rest of the fair. They've even replicated the views outside their windows via interactive lightboxes.
Contemporary furniture aside, its incredibly personal and full of their family treasures. These range from the high brow, there is a painting by Hannes’ grandfather, the artist Dan Van Severen, lots of art books and a plaster foot leftover from a larger sculpture, but also plastic kids paraphernalia. My favourite detail was the two cardboard self-portraits by their kids that brighten up the mantelpiece.
Incidental sounds and anecdotes from the pair about particular objects are played from speakers in the ceiling, although it was a little tricky to hear - headphones may have worked better. Meanwhile, they've opened their genuine home (presumably with quite a bare living room) to AirBnB for the duration of Design Miami.
American sculptor Tom Sachs, has been making one-off furniture for 30 years. His booth features chairs that he began developing with Knoll, but then took back production and in his typically subversive way has continued to call the range Knoll - until he's served a cease and desist order. This is nothing new for Sachs, also on display are small white ceramic pots bearing the NASA logo in red if you know his work, and past works include a Chanel-branded guillotine.
What is new is that he's experimenting with industrialised production for this furniture range of chairs and tables. Inspired by the traditional Japanese saw horse, each has been milled by a robot, but then is hand-finished and assembled in his New York studio. Many of the pieces were snapped up early, some by designer/DJ/art director Virgil Abloh, who's been a collector of Sachs' work for a while.
All the Nightmares Came Today, Doug Starn and Mike Starn for Cristina Grajales Gallery
Identical twins Doug and Mike Starn's monumental furniture pieces of woven bamboo, tethered together with rock-climbing knots, resemble chaotic human nests. The pair have been creating art together since childhood and although originally photographers, their practice has diversified in the past 20 years to include sculpture and performances.
They are best known for their 2010 installation, Big Bambú: "You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop" on the roof of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fully immersive it was added to daily, with the help of a team of rock climbers, and visitors could clamber into it, and sit in it - it's the museum's most popular exhibition so far. This collection utilises the same methods on a smaller scale and each piece takes around three months to construct.
R and Company
Even the Haas Bros, who specialise in fantastical beasts and Afreaks, toned things down a notch, with miniature flora and fauna in the form of Mini Beasts, a new series of Micro Beasts and delicate ceramic and glass works titled Fairy Berries. Starting at $9,000 a piece, most sold out. Less quiet was their hand-carved black walnut wood, Door Than This, a psychedelic timber base relief that took over a year to create. Featuring walruses one side and octopuses the other it's inspired by Beatles' songs "I am a Walrus" and "Octopus's Garden".
Garnering lots of attention too is Sérgio Rodrigues' 1978 Mesa Parker dining table and chairs in Russian pine. Never seen before, this was created for a private home and the unusual shape the chairs, large seats and tapered back rests are said to be such to suit the proportions of the original clients.
House of Today presents Construction Deconstruction
A Beirut-based non-profit organisation is behind this Curio installation displaying the work of three Lebanese designers. Cherine Magrabi Tayeb founded the House of Today eight years ago to promote emerging designers from the Lebanon, proceeds of sales fund scholarships for design students there.
"There is so much negativity about our country and this is about the younger generation and there is a certain naivety and happiness exuded in the piece. We wanted to introduce an American audience to the aesthetics of Lebanese design," she says, "it's about showing craftsmanship and artisanship and our tendency towards mixing contrasting materials." Set designer Rami Dalle's is a contemporary mosaic of plaster plates that combine a variety of old paraphernalia from antique stores and pottery pieces.
Sayar & Garibeh's Mom refined table and mirrors, inspired by their mothers with pearl necklace-like elements, are a beguiling mix of glass, brass and liquid foam which resembles precious coloured travertine. Khaled El Mays extraordinary wicker works push the boundaries of craft, with the wicker elements entirely seam-free.
Design Miami is on until 10th December at Meridian Avenue & 19th Street, Miami Beach, USA; designmiami.com