Young designers and small-scale manufacturers are propelling a renaissance in furniture and product design in Chicago, attracting national attention. New designs will be on display in four exhibitions this fall: the “Distinctive Furniture Show” (Saturday 8) and “SMALL Furniture and Functional Objects” (October 5) at the Bridgeport Art Center, “Idea Tree” (Thursday 6) at the Chicago Center for Green Technology and the Design Harvest street festival (September 29, 30) in West Town. Here are a few of our favorites.
“First and foremost, I like to build,” says Jacob Wener, founder of Modern Industry furniture. For each new collection, Wener builds 10 to 15 pieces designed around a particular theme or idea. His latest collection—to be unveiled at Design Harvest later this month—was inspired by a single vintage credenza with crisscrossed legs. The design of Wener’s minibar (pictured) reflects the classic midcentury elements of the original credenza, yet retains an early-21st-century edge.
William FitzPatrick’s furniture reflects his education at the Illinois Institute of Technology, whose design school is grounded in the Bauhaus principles of Mies van der Rohe and László Moholy-Nagy. Straddling the line between art and design, FitzPatrick describes his works as “performing a kind of balancing act: Is it furniture or is it sculpture?” His pieces, like this chaise lounge, are unique one-offs made from salvaged materials that are often left “as is” to better retain the history of the original artifact. You can see more of FitzPatrick’s work at the “Distinctive Furniture Show.”
“We are happy with variation in our work, because it emphasizes the handmade qualities of each piece,” says Elizabeth Fiersten, cofounder of Manifold along with husband Ross. Their niche is metal fabricated furniture, like this Membrana table, made from cold-rolled steel and patinized in their environmentally friendly Ravenswood workshop. The Fierstens take a minimalist, sculptural approach to their work, first creating experimental prototypes and then regularizing subsequent pieces in the fabrication process.
Manifold's Membrana table is available at A. Rudin in the Merchandise Mart.
“My pieces are built to last; that’s why I accentuate the joinery,” says Steven Teichelman, frontman for the design collective THREEFOLD, which includes Harlan and Susan Thompson. Teichelman’s attention to how components fit together is influenced by the construction of traditional Japanese architecture and furniture. Much of his work integrates custom pieces into residential and commercial interiors, like the sushi bar and light fixtures (pictured) at Bucktown’s Sublime Sushi, which, in the spirit of Japanese tradition, are joined with no glue or hardware.
Sharon and Ted Burdett, owners of Strand Design, are big proponents of American manufacturing. “Great, high-quality products can still be made in the U.S.,” Sharon says. Recently, the design duo, who operate their own workshop, outsourced the fabrication of some recent designs—like this Tripod Stool—to local Chicago manufacturers. Conscious of sustainable practices, the spouses create light fixtures (pictured) made from urban-sourced wood and electronic components manufactured in nearby Woodstock, Naperville and Benton Harbor, Michigan.