On a sunny afternoon during this spring’s Milan furniture fair, blissfully unaware of the encroaching cloud of ash, I made my way through the maze of exhibitions at Spazio Rossani Orlandi, the former factory turned gallery and shop off Corso Magenta. As usual, there was plenty to see: During the fair, the gallery practically splits its seams with new work, giving over corners of the courtyard and even parts of the stairwell as exhibition space for young talent. In the basement, I encountered a bottleneck. Nearly everyone passing through the room occupied by the Eindhoven-based duo BCXSY was stopping to gape at the young couple’s latest offering: a trio of Japanese screens in hinoki cypress wood, each designed as two geometric shapes intersecting in beautifully woven grids. Called Join, it was, in many fairgoers’ opinion, an example of the best sort of product — one that makes better something you hardly knew needed improvement.
BCXSY’s designers — the Dutch/Israeli Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto, a jewelry designer from Tokyo — have been inching their way towards fame since 2007, when on a whim Cohen asked his girlfriend if she’d like to show with him in a small space he’d reserved at Salone Satellite, the young designer’s showcase at Milan’s fairgrounds. The two quickly came up with a name (pronounced BIC-see, it’s an acronym of their initials, invented for its URL-friendliness), a logo (an old-school silhouette portrait depicting his bald head and her hair pulled into a bun), and a collection, which included a set of tiles textured to look like fruits and vegetables, which was their first product to catch our eye.
In the beginning, the Design Academy Eindhoven grads created cut-glass coffee-table aquariums, hand-gilded plastic trinkets, light-up swings — playful one-offs, in other words, that turned the heads of design editors but didn’t seem destined for many homes. In the last year or so, however, their work has taken a turn into a serious exploration of craft and technique. Besides the screens, the two debuted in Milan a series of coiled, beaded vases, created in collaboration with Editions in Craft and the Siyazama Project, a bead craft collective of women from the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa.
For the screens, Cohen and Yamamoto traveled to Japan to work with Mr. Tanaka, a 70-year-old master of tategu, the Japanese art of wood joinery. “We knew we wanted to do a project with the crafts tradition in Japan, but it was hard to find someone,” Cohen says. “People who do that sort of traditional woodwork are either really famous, like national treasures, or impossible to locate.” When they finally found Mr. Tanaka — who has no email, no assistant, and speaks no English — they spent a month with him, taking two weeks to find inspiration for the project and two to actually develop the series. As they were leaving, Mr. Tanaka estimated that it would take him 10 to 14 days to complete each piece; two-and-a-half months later, he was still working nights and weekends and popping energy drinks to finish the third. (The labor, the materials, and the incredibly fine detailing add up to a rather hefty price tag for the limited editions, of which 8 of each variation are available.)
At Rossana Orlandi, Cohen and Yamamoto had on hand a photo album detailing their time with Mr. Tanaka as well as his continuing work once they returned to the Netherlands. Presented here are few of our favorites, along with the story of the screens’ making.
For a studio that crafts objects evocative of summer-camp bliss, Fredericks & Mae have an awfully dark creation story. For the last eight months, Gabriel Fredericks Cohen and Jolie Mae Signorile have been hard at work fletching, painting, and spinning bright polyester thread around their custom-made arrows, which sell for $95 apiece at boutiques like Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Partners & Spade. But when they met senior year at Oberlin, says Signorile, “Gabe was really into the apocalypse and I was obsessed with nostalgia. When we got into it, we realized they were kind of about the same thing: a fear of the future.”
From birth, Daniel Heer was groomed to take over his family's leather- and mattress-making business. He learned the necessary skills early on, honing them through an adolescence spent at the Heer workshop in Lucerne, Switzerland, watching his father and grandfather work. His post-secondary education focused on one thing and one thing only: how to ply his trade. And then when he moved to Berlin at age 20, he left it all behind.
During the annual Milan Furniture Fair, booths bubble over with new items, carefully chosen props, and company spokespeople running around trying to sell you on the relevance of it all. Rare is the company that focuses its energies on a single product. But last week, in a quiet courtyard off Via Savona, the American manufacturer Bernhardt Design did just that, introducing its first product by Parisian designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance: Corvo, a warm, curvaceous wood seat with a complicated beveling system and legs that in the back resolve into shapely architectural T-sections.