NEW YORK --Is American design tired?
That's what one non-American design guru seems to think. ''American design has had its moments," says Li Edelkoort, a European trend forecaster who heads the Dutch design school called Design Academy Eindhoven. ''We know Americans know about design. But recently it's been at low tide."
Edelkoort was here last week for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, the state-of-the-art preview show attended by designers, manufacturers, and others steeped in the modern home-furnishings universe, representing 29 countries.
Some may object to her take on the status of American design, which Edelkoort blames on the psychic shock of Sept. 11 that zapped the country of creative energy. But one thing seemed clear from the offerings at the show, held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Even if American design doesn't seem tired, Americans certainly are.
So, for that matter, are a lot of Europeans. How else to explain the emergence of contemporary home furnishings from the United States and beyond designed not to be iconoclastic, but instead to be fun or calming?
Consider the products offered by Modern Convenience, based in Athens, Ga. Owner Didi Dunphy, a sculptor, maintains that what is missing from the average American adult's life is ''scheduled recess time." She's designed a line of play furniture for grown-ups -- swings, indoor skateboards, and seesaws that are all padded or upholstered (presumably to prevent these adult children from losing their balance and breaking a hip).
For every eyebrow-raising, rule-breaking design, there seemed to be another that took its cues from the natural world, such as the biodegradable pillows made by Canadian designer Joanna Notkin; her company, Looolo Textiles, won the ICFF award in the textiles category. Or the driftwood and stone lamps by Bleu Nature, or wallpaper by Mibo, inspired by birds and leaves and flowers.
Industrial designers Duane Smith and Stefane Barbeau of Vessel, in Boston, introduced a product that seems resigned to the hectic pace of American life, but aims to transcend it. It's a workplace dish set --bowl, cup, plate, utensils all wrapped up in a desktop placemat. It fits on a bookshelf and ''is designed to be used in your office, for eating your take-out lunch," Smith says. The placemat adds a touch of refinement to an otherwise depressing lunchtime scenario. ''We're not promoting eating at your desk," he hastens to add, ''but people can't avoid it."