PHOTOS BY JAY Q CHEN
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.