For 15 years, Design Miami has been showcasing both the most functional and the most far-out concepts in collectible design from around the world. In 2019, the annual fair has taken on added timeliness with its theme of “Elements: Water,” spotlighting a number of designers whose eco-consciousness informs their artistry. Natural, sustainable, and reclaimed materials dominate, but organizers still found space for some classics.
Here are 10 of the most compelling exhibits from this year’s show.
Of all the featured designers in this year’s show, London-based Fernando Laposse benefits from perhaps the highest profile, with two separate booths exhibiting his works made of all-natural materials from his native Mexico. Laposse’s whimsical pink beasts greet visitors at the entrance to the fair, with an Instagram-friendly family of hairy sloths. Sponsored by the Miami Design District, the creatures are woven with sisal fibers culled from Yucatan agave plants and colored with a natural dye derived from Oaxacan insects. Meanwhile, emerging incubator Ago Projects, based in Mexico City and New York, showcases the designer’s more functional pieces, including a furry bench and a matching table made from the same dyed fibers. Also on display: sculpted volcanic stone pieces by Pedro Reyes and eclectic pine-wood chair lamps by Fabien Cappello.
South African designer Porky Hefer is best known for his cozy hanging “Molecules” pods, which are styled after various chemical compounds. This year, Cape Town’s Southern Guild spotlights three of Hefer’s newest orbs, including his largest one yet. Titled Fluoroheliate Monoxide, it is spacious enough for two and is priced at $130,000. Each pod is wrapped in brightly colored leather, with an ultra-soft sheepskin interior. Also on display: sculptor Justine Mahoney’s bronze statue of a part-robot goddess and irregularly shaped cabinetry by Johannesburg’s Dokter and Misses.
Salon 94 Design
The design-focused offshoot of New York gallery Salon 94 rolled into Miami Beach this year with a new group of furnishings by South Korean-born designer Jay Sae Jung Oh, whose “Savage” series makes functional pieces out of old toys and other found objects. One eye-catching lounger incorporates an entire bicycle, among other things. Also on display: a series of rare drawings and resin skins by Italian designer Gaetano Pesce.
French fashion house Balenciaga makes some of the world’s finest clothing, but inevitably, some of it goes to waste. Enter Russian designer Harry Nuriev of Crosby Studios, who repurposed unsold or flawed pieces to create something completely different: an oblong sofa, styled after overstuffed Lay-Z-Boy-style recliners. Each section of the sofa is stuffed with off-cuts and obsolete items from Balenciaga’s warehouse and is encased in transparent vinyl. Intended as an example of eco-conscious design, this fully functional sofa is also surprisingly comfortable.
A vintage 1971 leather sofa by pioneering Brazilian designer Ricardo Fasanello highlights a funky collection of Latin American and European works from Barcelona’s Side Gallery. Fasanello’s Fardos sofa combines three oversized rolls, wrapped in suede and bound with canvas bands. A big success in its day, the luxurious sofa remains in pristine condition and now priced at $35,000. Also on display: an unconventional neon-and-metal chandelier by Guillermo Santoma and a sleek onyx-and-cast resin coffee table by Sabine Marcelis.
Perhaps the most mesmerizing piece in this year’s show comes from experimental Gallery ALL of Los Angeles. Its kinetic wall clock, titled A Million Times, by European designers Humans Since 1982, prompted many passersby to stop and stare while its multiple hands shifted from wildly out of sync, to perfectly aligned at every minute mark. Also on display: a brass chair shaped like an inverted human spine and other provocative objects by Chinese sculptor Zhipeng Chen.
R & Company
This year, New York gallery R & Company divided its booth into five distinct spaces, with the most prominent placement granted to designer Jeff Zimmerman’s new collection of uniquely sculpted, hand-blown glass pendant lamps and vessels. Created in collaboration with glassblower James Mongrain at the Corning Museum of Glass, the glassworks achieve their distinctive looks through a labor-intensive Italian canning technique. Also on display: an enormous bronze-cast mirror by Los Angeles designers the Haas Brothers and an extraterrestrial-inspired marble-composite fireplace with matching furniture by fellow LA designer Rogan Gregory.
Sarah Myerscough Gallery
London’s Sarah Myerscough Gallery dedicated its entire booth this year to the works of multidisciplinary artist Marcin Rusak, who takes real flowers and encases them in off-white resin, then slices the material lengthwise to reveal natural complexities. These floral-embedded slabs are then assembled into unique benches and shelves as part of Rusak’s Perma furniture collection. It is one of the most novel exhibits of the entire show.
Les Ateliers Courbet
Unquestionably the most humorous exhibit at this year’s show comes from New York gallery Les Ateliers Courbet and Thirlwall Design. The entire installation is devoted to the absurd furniture in French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s 1958 satire Mon Oncle, a spoof on modern design. French craftsmen Domeau & Peres tapped into Tati’s archives to recreate props from the movie, including a rocking chair that too easily tips over and a sofa that offers no support for one’s derriere. Unsurprisingly, some of these pieces are still available for purchase.
Functional Art Gallery
Berlin’s Functional Art Gallery specializes in designs that push the boundaries of form and function. That approach is clearly evident in this year’s exhibition of 12 distinctive chairs by designers including Theophile Blandet, Finn Meier, and Ortamiklos. The various seats make ample use of metals, fiberglass, and LEDs, with very little fabric in between. Leo Orta’s imposing Lion Dog-A notably incorporates old touch-tone phones and cords to fill out its animal-like form.
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