AT LAS VEGAS MARKET—Two chairs took the “gold” at World Market Center Las Vegas this week, during the third annual “One Good Chair” competition, sponsored by World Market Center Las Vegas and the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Eric Tong’s Zpine chair received the grand prize and Juan Mercado’s RE_Flex chair won in the People’s Choice category.

A discussion and awards ceremony took place Wednesday, January 26 at World Market Center Las Vegas during Winter Las Vegas Market, January 24-28.

Minimum|maximim was this year’s theme, and designers from around the world were invited to create a chair that managed to preserve natural resources while also amplifying human delight. The goals of the competition revolved around minimizing material, production, shipping and assembly while maximizing comfort, utility, durability and beauty. Sustainable Furnishings Council members, including The Phillips Collection and Handy Living, created prototypes of some of the finalists’ designs.

Lance Hosey moderated the ceremony and introduced the judges and finalists. Hosey, who is president and CEO of GreenBlue, a nonprofit that works to make products more sustainable, and the author of The Shape of Green Design, said this year’s theme was quite a complex challenge. “The competition asks a deceptively simple question: ‘How little material can you use to make the most of a chair?’” said Hosey. “It’s counterintuitive to think you can make more with less, but the most compelling designs manage to do so very elegantly.”

More than 360 participants submitted entries in the competition, representing both professional and amateur designers. Five finalists mastered the seeming paradoxical challenge of celebrating abundance while doing more with less.

The final jury included television host, writer and producer Sarah Backhouse of “Planet 100” on the Discovery Network’s Planet Green, Shashi Caan of Shashi Caan Collective, Kira Gould, director of communications with William McDonough + Partners and Zem Joaquin, founder and CEO of ecofabulous, the online source for the “well-lived eco-life.” The jury selected the grand prize, or “Judges’ Choice” winner, while the public voted for People’s Choice.

The grand prize winner, Tong, who hails from London, England, created the winning Zpine chair using a honeycomb core (also known as “cellular structure”). The piece converts seamlessly between a chair and a chaise, collapsing with ease. Tong said he chose honeycomb for its magnificent strength-to-weight ratio and because it’s inexpensive, sustainable and biodegradable. He received a $4,500 cash prize that he says he will apply towards the manufacturing and marketing of the chair.

In his acceptance speech, Tong – who oversaw the manufacturing of his chair prototype personally — thanked World Market Center Las Vegas and the Sustainable Furnishings Council, saying the victory was the culmination of his hard work, and he felt honored to win. Tong said that he chose the material for his chair after seeing it for the first time in a factory in China. He loved it for its economical value, but also its aesthetic. “It’s such a beautiful material,” he said. Manufacturers approached Tong immediately following the competition awards program to discuss manufacturing his winning chair.

In discussing the Zpine chair, the judges agreed that the piece is something they would like to see in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Joaquin said that Tong truly embraced the mission of the contest. "It's such a beautiful piece,” Joaquin said. “Often a piece like this is more elegant in concept than reality. This was a rare exception. It is also incredibly comfortable."

Juan Mercado of Jackson, Michigan won the People’s Choice award by more than a 30 percent margin. Mercado received more than 400 votes out of nearly 1,200 via the Las Vegas Market's homepage (lasvegasmarket.com) and HomeYet.com, the website of National Home Furnishings Month. Mercado created the RE_Flex chair from a standard 4-by-8-inch wood sheet. The chair can be used as a sleek modern desk chair or a comfortable reading/rocking chair, depending on the owner’s mood. Its design is simple yet sophisticated, and requires minimal packaging and space for shipping.

Mercado was excited to see the prototype—and to win People’s Choice. “The Phillips Collection did a great job furnishing the prototype,” he said. He added that manufacturers have approached him and he looks forward to the next step, whatever it may be.

Susan Inglis, executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, said she was delighted with all of the entries and is currently researching creative ways of promoting the winners. “The caliber of the winners’ designs says a lot about design talent, and the competition itself,” said Inglis. She congratulated them on their hard work.

She also praised the other finalists, as well as the judges. “The discussion and comments from the judges were rich,” said Inglis. “They encouraged the finalists and winners and provided guidance.”

Inglis added that the strength and creativity of the entries defied her own expectations. “This is an injection of new design talent,” she said.

Hosey said that he, too, was impressed with what he saw. “The finalists all show a remarkable range of possibilities for such a narrowly defined challenge,” said Hosey. “Each of the frontrunners addresses this challenge in its own unique way, using different materials, different shapes, different ideas. That’s exciting to see.”

Other finalists for the competition include the following:

Helena Bueno, Brazil, Broom Chair: This simple yet whimsical chair is made from nine sticks of birch wood that fit easily into a bright plastic seat. It’s playful, yet remarkably efficient to mount and collapse—all of the sticks can be removed and requires no glue, nails, screws or metal components.

Tom Fereday, Australia, Allt Chair: This linear-framed chair is reminiscent of classic handcrafted Danish furniture, with a mesh and fastening system that are 100 percent contemporary. Made from recyclable birch plywood and stainless steel components, the chair uses non-permanent fasteners and can easily be disassembled, reducing its environmental footprint on a number of levels, from beginning to end.

Klaus Peter Berkemeyer, Germany, ELXE: Elegance meets functionality in the ELXE. The backrest and seat are made of two molded wooden shelves, which merge with two wooden legs that also form the armrests. With two light front legs of stainless steel, ELXE can be dismantled into just four components for easy moving or storage.

One Good Chair is part of World Market Center’s One Good World Series, featuring in-depth discussions and high-profile speakers focusing on eco-friendly issues. Sustainability is one of the most dynamic and important issues facing the home furnishings industry.

The Winter 2011 Las Vegas Market takes place January 24-28, 2011.

About World Market Center Las Vegas

World Market Center Las Vegas is an integrated home and hospitality contract furnishings showroom and trade complex. The campus showcases furniture, decorative accessories, gift, lighting, area rugs, home textiles and related segments, as well as the Las Vegas Design Center open daily to consumers and designers. World Market Center currently hosts the biannual Las Vegas MarketTM, the preeminent total home market along with Gift + HomeTM and Vegas KidsTM.

SOURCE: World Market Center Las Vegas

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