The Contour coffee table by the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based design firm Bower is one sexy piece of furniture.
It has a smooth curved base made of lacquered white wood, with a top of delicately veined Calacatta Paonazzo marble that’s inset at one end with glass tinted peachy pink. The effect is somehow cool and warm, contemporary and retro.
The Contour series (there are coffee, dining and side tables) is also one of the more striking examples of a nascent design trend.
For years, design has been dominated by the “new vintage” look, with its love of taxidermy and salvaged barn wood, its nostalgia for dark hunting cabins and 19th-century gentleman’s clubs.
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What design insiders say they are seeing lately is a brighter, lighter, more-contemporary aesthetic, one that still favors organic materials, but with a more-refined sensibility and cleaner lines.
To the eye of Glenn Adamson, director of New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, the look possesses a “lightness of touch, a low-key feeling.”
For Newell Turner, editorial director of the Hearst Design Group, there’s “a lot of influence from Scandinavian design.”
Jill Singer, design writer and co-founder of the online magazine Sight Unseen, can’t give it a pithy label (“I’m not a good namer,” she says), but she isn’t at a loss to describe what she is seeing: “Extremely sophisticated palette. Mixing of materials. It’s been percolating for a long time.”
Think 1970s instead of 1870s. Vancouver, B.C., or Palm Springs instead of Brooklyn or Portland. As Singer says, “My partner and I were joking that the new ‘Put a bird on it’ is ‘Put a cactus in it.’ ”
The look was much in evidence at Sight Unseen Offsite, an annual design fair by Singer’s publication held recently in Manhattan, N.Y.
Designers exhibiting at Offsite, including Bower, favored blond or bleached woods and polished metals such as brass and copper. Peach, white and sky-blue tones were in abundance; furniture and lighting mixed wood with sumptuous materials like marble and bronze.
“Three years ago when we started, we only made things out of wood,” says Danny Giannella, who founded Bower with Tammer Hijazi. “It was limiting, and we liked mixing materials. We liked the veining of this marble.”
In addition to the Contour tables, the firm was showing C Lights made of curved brass tubes and opal glass globes and a series of Line wall mirrors, in silver, black and copper, created from 20 pieces of glass precision-cut by water jet.
Giannella and Hijazi aren’t the only Brooklyn woodworkers experimenting with materials and embracing a look that’s more crafted than reclaimed. Asher Israelow, who operates his eponymous studio out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, made his Lincoln chairs from black walnut but incorporated brass dowels.
Using brass instead of wood, Israelow says, counters the image of his studio as a rustic wood shop and adds visual refinement. “Polished brass has a lighter, ephemeral quality,” he says. “In my own shop, we’re cutting brass as much as we’re cutting wood.”
Like many designers who began their careers during the recession, Dylan Davis and Jean Lee, the team behind Seattle-based Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, started by repurposing vintage items and selling them on Etsy.
“We still have the sensibility of making something simple and playful,” Davis says, “but direct vintage references have been replaced with a more reductionistic approach.”
Ian Collings, a founder of Fort Standard, says he also has grown more experimental and current. His recent designs are, in part, a reaction to the “live-edge and rustic features” of the new vintage aesthetic, he says, which made every restaurant interior (and many people’s living rooms) resemble a turn-of-the-last-century apothecary.
There is, it seems, a fatigue with all those mounted deer heads and chunky farm tables that overtook Brooklyn’s hipper neighborhoods over the last decade and was imported to parts of Los Angeles, Paris and elsewhere.
Frank de Biasi, a New York-based interior designer, says that the first time he entered Freemans, the New York restaurant stuffed with antiques and taxidermy that arguably kicked off the trend, he marveled.
“I thought it was the coolest thing to have something so rough, so undone,” de Biasi says. “Would I want to live there? Probably not.”
While it’s fine to appreciate American heritage, he says, “We can move on, embrace something that’s more designed.”