As design-store owner Dave Alhadeff sees it, there’s a distinction between the kinds of craftspeople he is and isn’t interested in: The latter make objects primarily to show off their manual skills, while the former are motivated by a larger concept, a wish to make tangible some abstract artistic meaning. Carving toothpicks into forest animals? Skills. Carving porcelain into vases so mind-bogglingly intricate they appear to be made by machine? Concept. A subtle difference, but one that helps it seem slightly less absurd to picture Alhadeff — who runs The Future Perfect, one of New York’s most well-respected purveyors of contemporary design — roaming the aisles of a Westchester craft fair, chatting up potters and glassblowers. Concept, he explains, is what builds a bridge between pure craft and design. “I’m fascinated by that intersection point,” he says, pointing out that everything in his store has a strong conceptual basis, be it a console by Jaime Hayon or paintings by Patricia Satterlee. It’s what gives The Future Perfect its character.
Alhadeff began moonlighting in the insular world of craft about four years ago, three years after he opened his first shop, in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. “All the industrial designers I was working with were themselves working with very skilled craftspeople — that’s how great design is executed,” he says. “It occurred to me that there were probably people doing amazing work in that realm but not necessarily considering it design.” He began attending said craft fairs and reading craft magazines to search for talent that wouldn’t look out of place on his shelves, and he soon came up with his first show devoted to the subject. “Three Women” opened in November of 2007 and featured new sculptural works in porcelain by Leora Brecher, Lindsay Feuer, and Jennifer McCurdy, who makes the aforementioned intricate vases and whose work Alhadeff still sells in his stores (he recently opened a second outpost in Manhattan). “Jennifer is someone where I see her in the world of craft, and I’m thinking, ‘Why isn’t she collaborating with Rosenthal?’” he says. “Where’s the Jen for Rosenthal line, because I’m dying to see it. That’s exactly the intersection point I’m talking about.”
Of course, he’s the first to admit that’s not really the way the craft market works. Because making things by hand is ultimately the point, craft’s practitioners are happy selling their objects directly to collectors, oblivious to — and likely uninterested in —manufacturing deals that might help them transcend their genre. Even retail isn’t high on their priorities list: “When I talk to some of them and say, ‘I have a store in NYC and want to work with you,’ they’re like, ‘And…?’” Alhadeff says. “I’ve had some great success, but it’s required more convincing with this group than with anyone else. The work isn’t easy to sell; you need a special skill set to be able to describe how it’s made. It requires a level of trust on their part.” Regardless, Alhadeff persists in his efforts to join the two worlds, resulting not only in new craft work in his stores, but also in recent collaborations like the one Lindsey Adelman will unveil at the Manhattan space during ICFF in May. Read more about that project and others in this slideshow of work by Alhadeff’s eight favorite artisans of the moment.