In juxtaposition with the machinery and tools at IWF, there was one area specifically dedicated to displaying the latest inventions in furniture design by college students all over the country.

Many of the 16 pieces at The Design Emphasis Student Furniture Design Competition this year fit a theme. Some can be manipulated and turned, stacked, or rolled over, to make a new piece, and some can be used in more ways than one.

I was most impressed by Jake Blok’s Texas Ebony Jewelry Cabinet. Designed from a piece of Texas Ebony found in Arizona, the log is split in half to create perfectly symmetrical doors on the front of the floating-top cabinet. The artist used walnut and curly maple, and copper with patina finish. The racks are removable, allowing it to function as a jewelry chest. In the description, the Kendall College student said that “every artists has lucky moments,” and that the piece was inspired by Japanese design aesthetics. Among the fifty finalists, Blok was the only student entering seven different projects.

The Kitchen Island with Butcher Block by James A. Ellis from Western Piedmont College had the look of a chessboard, with dark, red, and white wood grain in alternating blocks. The piece is designed for small spaces, being that the leaves can be folded out to cut up food, or pushed together for use as a dining table. His company, Twisted Chisel, puts emphasis on both form and function.

The Design Emphasis competition recognizes and rewards advanced level designs in five categories: Seating, Case Goods, Commercial/Office/Hospitality Furniture, Accent Furniture/Accent Tables, and Design Creativity. Students submit their work two months before the show via slides and a written description of their piece. The finalists attend the Fair and ship their furniture art to the Georgia World Congress Center for a final judging the day before IWF by a panel of industry experts. After the judging, a special ceremony takes place where $12,000 in prize money is given to the winner.

Overall, I thought the pieces in the competition were a testament to the creativity and innovation of students all over the U.S. Each one had its own flair and sense of character, and each one was unlike anything you can find in a mainstream furniture store. IWF is not just a woodworking fair for goods, parts and heavy machinery, but a chance to spotlight creative ideas.

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