Does great design change year to year? Each June, Dwell Magazine hosts the Dwell on Design show in Los Angeles and it is often a chance to take the temperature of the design community at large. The economy’s lean years brought an increased interest in spare and minimalist decor. Ostentatiousness was out, smart design and conscious (rather than conspicuous) consumption was in.
This year’s event happened to begin on a day when the stock market hit new record highs, and the slow building economic optimism of the past six months is already impacting the design world. We are seeing a return to luxury, to glamour, and a certain showiness but it is a smart showiness, one that infuses the lessons of a pared-down past with the hopes of a brighter future.
Modern design is still in full focus but there is a great emphasis on luxurious finishes. For years anything gilded was frowned upon but this year saw the return of gleaming metallics in everything from new appliances to the burnished pieces shown by Organic Modernism. Soft edges abounded. A combination of both glamour and comfort are the order of the day.
Organic and rustic pieces will always have their place at this show but the pieces showcased were large and dramatic such as the Tranquility table from Primal Modern, a massive slab of white oak with a central focus of smoothed river stones. Primal Modern artist Michael Olshefski treats salvaged wood pieces as art. In a similar vein, Vita-Vino gives retired wine barrels the second life they deserve as furniture and sculpture.
Portable homes, prefabs, and container homes are always part of the Dwell on Design experience but even these seem newly infused with an eye toward the sybaritic. Perhaps the newest and best version is the Hutte Hut from the husband and wife team at Sprouting Sprocket Studio. The design combines the pleasing structure of a geodesic dome with a mountain cabin to create a surprisingly roomy portable wood-and-canvas bedroom that can be towed behind a car with ease.
The last few years have seen great advances in smart home technology and indeed this year there were more iPads and touchscreen interfaces than ever. Handles, knobs, and dials are practically obsolete these days although there is a certain pleasure in the tactile and familiar that some brands are taking advantage of. Nostalgia and bleeding-edge coolness seem in ways like two ends of the spectrum but increasingly they exist in the same space as today’s hippest consumers manage to both move forward and look back at the same time. The set pieces of style are starting to merge and fuse, antiques and retro-styled furnishing sitting neatly beside the latest gadgets and bold-edged pieces.
The design world is only starting to embrace the potential of three-dimensional printing but it is already having an impact on what is possible. Several of the presentations during the show focused on the potential for increased customization that these new ways of making will allow. At the same time we are approaching a new democratization of design, we are also seeing luxury head away from the pack, offering experiences and pieces that are completely attuned to the individual consumer, as individual as a fingerprint.