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.
Certain areas in the Northeast are generally regarded as nirvana for antique collectors: Hudson, New York; Lambertville, New Jersey; Adamstown, Pennsylvania; Brimfield, Massachusetts. Red Hook, Brooklyn, isn't one of them. But that’s where 29-year-old Russell Whitmore decided to set up shop three years ago, on a corner just a few blocks from the East River wharfs. His much-loved store, Erie Basin, specializes in Victorian- and Georgian-era jewelry, furniture, and curiosities, with a dash of 20th century thrown in.
To any reader who went to design school and is, years later, still making student loan payments month after month, you might want to close your eyes for this one: Rodrigo Almeida — the 34-year-old Brazilian furniture designer who's pals with the Campana brothers, has been featured in Wallpaper, and has made pieces for top galleries like Contrasts and FAT — didn't go to university, not even as an undergrad. What you're looking at here is raw talent, and a career that began when Almeida simply picked up the Brazilian magazine Arc Design six years ago and thought, "I want to do that."
The editors of Neuland, a recent compendium of up-and-coming German graphic designers, struggled with all the usual big, philosophical questions while putting their book together: What is German design? What is German? Who cares? If they were Ellen Lupton or Steven Heller, they might have spent pages upon pages ruminating on these issues. Instead, they did what any editors who are actually designers by trade might do — they asked their 51 subjects for the answers.