Design Miami 2013: What's Old Is New Again

The decorative arts sort of get a bad rap. But while everyone oohs and aahs at the blue-chip pieces for sale at Art Basel, you can't sit on a Picasso -- well, you can, but it's not going to be worth much once you stand up.

That's why Design Miami still remains an oddity amongst the satellite fairs -- it's utilitarian art. You can sit on it, eat off it, but your books on it, prop your feet up.

As we stepped inside what appeared to be a modular home installed in the middle of the tent by Galerie Patrick Seguin, we stopped a representative to ask questions.

So is the home modular?

"Um, what do you mean?" she said in heavily accented English.

Is it customizable?

"You can change the panels."

How much would something like this go for? Half a million?


A million?

"A bit more."

She seemed genuinely shocked and embarrassed that we asked about the price, but the home, designed by Jean Prouvé in 1945, was meant to provide an affordable way to mass produce homes without losing much style in a post-war France. It seems a bit mind-boggling to see "Maison 8x8" sell for over a million dollars when you think about the house's original intention. Nevertheless, the representative told us that any interested buyer could have the home shipped to them in crates anywhere in the world.

But for those looking for something a bit more permanent, Miami developers Terra Group and former Miami Art Museum curator Terrence Riley presented "Four (4): New Visions for Living in Miami," which presented plans that were proposed for what we imagine became the Grove at Grand Bay project. The exhibit is meant to show how architects address the challenges of a certain project.

But we're here for the furniture. One thing we noticed this year was the use of organic materials -- wood, stone, mother of pearl -- and how most of it was left to look like its source. Wood pieces highlighted their own imperfections, while some jagged edges were left untouched on stone tables and chairs.

Los Angeles' Industry Gallery's offerings by Benjamin Rollins Caldwell focused on using 21st century material -- in his case, recycled computer parts -- to create furniture. Make no mistake, Caldwell isn't trying to hide the fact that you're probably sitting on your old motherboard. If the artist name sounds familiar, you've got Lady Gaga to thank for that. After sitting on one of his chairs for a promotional picture for her latest album Artpop, the newly minted matron of the arts had his "Binary Room" on display at her Artrave event last month in Brooklyn.

Also catching our eyes was the lawn furniture by Walter Lamb. Made around the 1950s, the pieces -- made of rope and bronze -- look contemporary by today's standards. Lamb was vastly ahead of his time, and the furniture, which looks better suited to be displayed in a museum than, say, your patio, still seems both utilitarian and thoughtfully designed using salvaged materials.

"Oh my god, if the Everglades were like this, I would really love it." The most asinine comment came from a lady at the Swarovski display by Guilherme Torres. "Mangue Groove" was inspired by the Brazilian mangrove forests, but seems to fit South Florida well; mangroves are some of nature's most beautiful creations, after all.

As we made our way out of the tent, we took a look at entrance created by formlessfinder. TENT PILE is essentially a big pile of sand, which is meant to convey sustainability and the idea of using raw materials in their natural form. Having seen several past entrances created for the fair, we can't exactly say this is our favorite, but it was interesting to see the perplexing looks on people's faces as they looked in. So, mission accomplished?

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