Medium Density Fiberboard, or MDF, is practically synonymous with furniture design. Heavy, humble, indestructible, and cheap, it's the ur-material for studio experimentation, maquette building, and the occasional emergency quick-fix bookcase/shelf/chair/table. So it was to this material's acronym that TENbyTEN and Design Within Reach turned when we decided to co-sponsor our first-ever emerging furniture designers competition, Modern + Design + Function-Chicago furniture now.
The MDF competition idea came from conversations between Jessica Wingate, the studio proprietor of Design Within Reach's Kingsbury Street, Chicago, location, her husband Hannes Wingate, a conceptually inclined interior designer originally from Sweden, Annette Ferrara, TENbyTEN's editor in chief, and Maggie Malone, TENbyTEN's publisher, about the state of contemporary furniture design in Chicago. "What if we held a contest seeking out Chicago's budding design talent," we asked? The rules would be simple: only emerging designers with no mass-marketed designs could enter (so Philippe Starck, say, and designers of his ilk would be disqualified); the furniture designs submitted had to be functional (no conceptual projects were allowed) and be able to be built by the time of the exhibition; we would pick jurors who had professional experience across a wide variety of visual disciplines, not just furniture design; and preference would be given (but not limited to) designers living in and around Chicago. Design Within Reach would provide studio space for a one-night exhibition of the winning designs, and TENbyTEN would publish a feature on the designers. Emails went out and ads were placed in October, with the exhibition slated for December 9, 2004. Then we waited for submissions.
We didn't have to wait long. It soon became very clear as the deluge of entries piled higher and higher on Annette's desk-some from as far afield as Copenhagen, London, Houston, and Los Angeles-and phone lines blinked feverishly with inquiries, that there were more under-the-radar furniture designers in Chicago (or who identified themselves as Chicagoans despite their current geographical situation) than we initially thought. We had struck a nerve. One hundred sixty entries in all flooded the office. The jurors, Gillion Carrara, director, Fashion Resource Center, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Rob Forbes, founder, Design Within Reach; Jeanne Gang, principal and founder, Studio Gang Architects; Elizabeth Smith, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art; and Frederick J. Schmidt, managing principal, The Environments Group, had the arduous, painstaking task of picking 24 designers and their 25 winning designs from the sprawling piles, and then come back on the night of the exhibition, once the actual pieces were built, to pick the top four designs to be awarded "Best in Show." The 25 chosen designs, although visually disparate and covering a number of furniture categories such as lighting, seating, tables, and storage, were united in their commitment to innovative ideas, creative design solutions, showed a bent towards sustainability, a respect for materials, and were ultra-modern appearance.
The one-night exhibition was a raucous, wonderful affair. Approximately 1,000 people over the course of the night poured into Design Within Reach's Kingsbury studio to check out the winning designs, sip complimentary cocktails by Vox, and listen to funk and soul spun by DJ Ben Fasman. DWR's Rob Forbes complimented the designers on the "high level of craftsmanship and technical innovation" and announced the four to be awarded "Best in Show": Jason Rosenblatt for his "Modern Smoke Detector," Apostrophe S Design (Stephanie Munson and Bruce M. Tharp) for their "Progeny" coat rack, Daniel Michalik Furniture Design (Daniel Michalik) for his "Cortica" cork chaise lounge, and David Tsai for his Alexander Calder-esque "Cuda" side table.
What follows below are images of the 25 winning designs and what the designers had to say about their pieces. We've provided prices and contact information for you, too, so if you see a piece of furniture you must have, contact the designer directly. Show your support for local design!
But don't just take our word for it that the MDF competition was a smash hit, Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach has some great things to say about MDF and TENbyTEN in this DWR email newsletter www.dwr.comimages/newsletter/ten.html.