Even non-New Yorkers know Soho, the swath of land below Houston Street in Manhattan, colonized by artists in the ’60s and now the domain of the rich and the retail-obsessed. Noho, on the other hand, still flirts with obscurity, despite having been home to some of the city’s most legendary artists — Robert Mapplethorpe, Frank Stella, and Chuck Close, to name a few — as well as its first Herzog and de Meuron building. Sure, as an emerging neighborhood with several hotels on the rise, its streets are often crisscrossed with ungainly spiderwebs of scaffolding, but beneath that lies a creative energy so strong we at Sight Unseen figured it would be the perfect place to create a new satellite destination during New York design week: the Noho Design District. All of the elements were already there.
In the past few years, the neighborhood has undergone a visible change at street level, with boutiques like Oak, Rogan, Zero Maria Cornejo, and Billy Reid taking up residence alongside historic businesses like Acme Sandblasting and D&D Salvage. Williamsburg design shop The Future Perfect opened an outpost in Noho last year, just across the street from Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti’s burgeoning shop and creative consultancy, Partners & Spade. And then there are the elements you can’t see: The upstairs headquarters for the Arts Corporation, where architect Mike Latham creates technophilic sculptural furniture, and for the social media-focused branding agency Electric Artists, among others. It’s the perfect setting in which to explore the values Sight Unseen holds dear: the nurturing of local and emerging talent, a respect for both history and the avant-garde, and an interest in what unites creative disciplines like art, fashion, and design.
When we began thinking about ICFF eight months ago, we realized that these were all values that could be better represented during New York’s annual furniture fair, when commerce often tends to come before culture. What if, we wondered, we could create a new platform for exploring both? And so following in the footsteps of Abe Gurko’s Meatpacking District initiative, we — along with project director Maria Cristina Rueda from Uhuru Design — began speaking to our friends in Noho about how we could help them initiate an annual neighborhood event that would fill their spaces with the work of established brands and emerging talents in art and design.
Oak, Daryl K, Billy Reid, Rogan, The Future Perfect, Partners & Spade, Relative Space, and even the butcher shop Japan Premium Beef all came on board, with the hip café The Smile as our press center. Eager to support the cause, Anthony Lauto of the Great Jones Lumber building allowed Areaware and Roll & Hill to move in for a week, while Wabnitz Editions and the new crowdsourced online furniture producer Stylefactory.com generously made it possible for nearly a dozen young designers to showcase their work at the pop-up exhibition Noho Next. Once our doors opened, The Macallan helped us throw a Saturday night party in all 10 spaces, making it an event to remember. We hope to expand the cast of characters even further for next year’s show, but for now, here are the highlights from this one.
Had you peeked into London gallerist Libby Sellers's diary for the week of the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this month, you would have seen all the requisite stops on the circuit: Rossana Orlandi one afternoon, Lambrate and Tortona the next, plus a stop at Satellite and a time out for breakfast at the Four Seasons with Alice Rawsthorn, her former boss. There was time made for shopping — Sellers is a self-admitted clothes horse, having transformed most of her London apartment into a walk-in closet — and for a visit to the 10 Corso Como gallery and bookstore. But despite what you'd expect from one of the world's most respected supporters of emerging design, who for the past two years has commissioned work from and produced pop-up exhibitions with talents like Max Lamb and Julia Lohmann, Sellers did not walk away from the fair with an arsenal of new relationships to pursue. Her scouting is done before she even gets there, in graduate degree shows and over the internet, so that in Milan — unlike the rest of us — she gets to relax and enjoy the show.
At Fair Folks & a Goat, a new retail gallery and tea salon hybrid on New York’s Upper East Side, everything inside the gracious late 19th-century studio apartment is for sale. Well, almost everything — a small candy dish that reads “When I count my blessings, I count you twice” was a gift from co-owner Anthony Mazzei’s mother and “it’s a million dollars,” he jokes, while the vintage paperbacks lining a wall of shelves constitute an actual lending library. Here, the props and merch blend into a seamless backdrop for a new kind of social gathering. “We wanted to create a space for young people to have a home away from home, where instead of alcohol and loud music it would be more like a physical incarnation of a magazine, with design, art, fashion, and culture,” says Mazzei.
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.