What We Saw
At New York Design Week 2012, Part II: Hotel California


How could we have possibly known, when we first decided to host an exhibition of California design during our third annual Noho Design District, that we would be blessed with four straight days of glorious, Los Angeles–style sunshine? (Followed, of course, by a day of downpours, but more on that tomorrow.) Springtime in New York is a fickle beast, and when we first began to plan how best to use the gorgeous second-floor terrace space we’d been given at the new Standard, East Village hotel, we said a prayer for mild climes but also engaged in fretful what-ifs with the hotel staff, talking about contingencies like awnings, tarps, and the possibility of moving everything — save for a nearly 50 square foot teak and rubber fort constructed on-site by Matt Gagnon — inside.

But in typically relaxed California fashion, we had nothing to worry about. On the first of those sunny days, the designers we’d handpicked — in collaboration with Brooks Hudson Thomas of the peripatetic retail project Specific — filed in to install their works. Benjamin Luddy and Makoto Mizutani of Scout Regalia stopped by to show off their stylish, American-made bicycle prototypes, but quickly left to pedal around in the sunshine, looking for the perfect spot for an impromptu photo shoot. Kelly Lamb wandered around the inside space, wondering where her Hanging Totems, strung with crystals and semi-precious stones and topped by cast-bronze triangles, would best catch the light. Gabriel Abraham of Atelier de Troupe laid out his beautifully rendered campaign-style Bivouac furniture collection, then set to work ironing the chairs’ fabric seats out on the patio. Steven Shein unpacked his chrome- and brass-plated modernist valets, then padded around barefoot, trying out using his own shoes as styling props.

In the days that followed, meetings were held on pillows inside Gagnon’s fort, beer was smuggled up from the downstairs hotel bar, and people milled around wondering how exactly we’d managed to transport the Golden State’s mellow vibe to the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan. Here’s a look at the designers who helped make it happen.


The undisputed winner of the weekend was Matt Gagnon’s Knit Fort, which was constructed on-site from bars of teak and rubber cording by the designer and his team over the course of a single afternoon. (André Balazs was rumored to have considered keeping the fort for his planned hotel renovation but ultimately declined.) For those who climbed the stairs from the hotel lobby, the fort emerged dramatically into view; for the rest, it beckoned invitingly from its perch on the patio’s raised platform, turning the terrace into something like summer camp.


A Brooklyn expat now living in LA, Gagnon first conceived of the fort for his two kids; with its four-figure price tag, however, it might be better suited for an outdoor shower at your Ditch Plains beach pad. A hinged door opens to reveal the interior, which in this case could fit three to four people comfortably. During the exhibition, Gagnon held meetings, conducted interviews, and drank beers on the cushy pillows he'd picked up last-minute down the street at Crate & Barrel.


Equally talked about was the Bivouac camping collection debuted by Gabriel Abraham of Atelier de Troupe, which consisted of oakwood and canvas field chairs that packed flat and were held together with sustainable vegan leather straps; an oak and leather side table; too-chic-for-the-forest enameled steel dishware; and a powder-coated spun steel lantern.


Lantern detail, with cute little lantern personality.


Okay, who are we kidding: The handcrafted, made-in-America Scout Regalia Bicycle was just as popular as the previous two entries. In addition to having a super-strong steel frame manufactured in Pennsylvania; a handwoven black ash basket made in New York, wool camp blankets from Topo Designs of Colorado, rear panniers by Winter Session in Chicago, and a really cool kickstand, it "rides like a Cadillac," according to Monica.


On our first walk-through of the hotel, way back in February, we spotted these metal shelves — which in the hotel's former life as the Cooper Square were used as a bar — and knew immediately that they should be filled with small goods. At the same time, we'd been talking to one of our favorite retailers — Brooks Hudson Thomas of Specific — about wanting to do a project together. Hence a collaboration was born, with Brooks as our man on the ground in LA, scouting for smalls, meeting with designers, and ultimately expanding the exhibition's scale from furniture to art and beyond. (And over the course of two dozen studio visits, Brooks found more than a few amazing furniture pieces to ship out as well!)


The works on view include Shin Okuda's Shaped Bookends, Lisa Sitko's Commemorative Plates, works on paper by Leonardo Bravo, Face Jugs by Matthias Merkel-Hess and Monique Van Genderen, leather stash boxes by Louis Gabriel, spotted stoneware by Pilar Wiley, and a special appearance of the Sight Unseen book, Paper View, which many people were able browse in person for the first time.


To the right were larger pieces, including Brendan Ravenhill's ingenious magnetic steel Dustbins, Ravenhill's Shop Stools, the jaunty walnut 101 Chandelier by Taidgh O'Neill, and another show-stopper: a wall hanging by Tanya Aguiniga, made from 90 pounds of recycled-cotton rope.


Wall hanging detail. This thing was seriously amazing.


Though many people thought these were the work of our favorite resin-slicing duo Chen Chen and Kai Williams, these Geodes were actually made by LA artist Elyse Graham, who creates that signature pocked interior by using blown-up balloons. Brooks told us that her father is a doctor, and in addition to creating prints from Xeroxes of the geodes' surfaces, she's been known to subject them to CT scans as well. That we'd like to see.


It wouldn't be a California show without crystals: Kelly Lamb says she indulged her hippie side with these Hanging Totems, strung with agate, crystal, moonstone, jade, onyx, ruby, sapphires, and emerald. They were topped by cast-bronze triangles, which emerged from the experimentation phase of one of Lamb's other ICFF projects: cast bronze geo pendants for our Once Removed exhibition at 22 Bond.


Steven Shein is best known for his more monolithic plywood flat-pack designs (not to mention his booming jewelry line) but for our show he went sculptural and airy and even learned to weld in order to make these visually light but stunning valets from chrome- and brass-plated or powder-coated steel.


In a small cozy room overlooking the intersection of 5th Street and Bowery was the work of our lone San Francisco entrant, the ceramicist and blogger extraordinaire Ian McDonald. "The works in the show," he says, "were thrown at the potters wheel using different stoneware clays that are mixed together before being used on the wheel. They were then hung from small handmade ceramic buttons on the wall. I was thinking of the wall as the floor, so the pottery hangs and sits flat to the wall as if it were on a table surface."


Also in the room were Felt Surfboards by Tanya Aguiniga, leather stools by Waka Waka, and a chandelier version of Brendan Ravenhill's runaway hit Cord Lamp.


Matte and glossy stools by Los Angeles duo Todosomething stood sentry back on the deck. (You can't see it in this image, but their undersides were powder-coated in cheery colors like mint green and blue.)


Design Bitches bench, made from skateboard grip tape and reclaimed wood.


Last but not least, we must give a shout out to graphic designer Benjamin Critton, who devised the Hotel California logo in less than two hours the day before the show opened. So lovely no one ever would have known if we didn't spill the beans here. Thanks Benjamin, thanks to Brooks, and thanks to all the designers who made the show an amazing success!