Article By Rick Becker
With at least one foot in the home furnishing industry for most of my life, I've always included comments on design in my equipment reviews and show reports. And judging from the reviews of my peers in the past couple of years, my flag waving is beginning to pay off. Audiophiles and manufacturers alike are slowly coming to recognize that the most important component of any audio system is the significant other. And one way to win their approval is through good design. Another is to buy them jewelry or watches of equal value to your system.
Twice a year I travel to the International Home Furnishings Show in High Point, North Carolina, for the biggest show of its kind in the world. There are over 11 million square feet of showroom space in High Point. While I visit only about 60 manufacturers with regularity, I walk through miles of aisles, window shopping, to keep abreast of design trends. As I do at the audio shows, I take notes with a camcorder and occasionally photograph items of interest to audiophiles who might be looking for designer solutions to audio problems. What follows are a few sightings from the most recent shows in April, 2005, and October, 2004.
I'll skip the obvious and point out a couple of very creative companies that make rugs that will be useful and decorative as wall hangings to minimize the first reflections coming from side walls. The shaggy rugs pictured here are made by Wish Designs from strips of leather or ultra suede and can be custom ordered in colors, sizes and designs of your choice for about $50/square foot. Also known as TigerRags, they are an evolutionary, commercial design of Amish origin. (Try and look past the chandelier made of bent twigs).
A similar treatment uses various yarns to create sculptured patterns with a loose weave that should also be very good at absorbing sound.
Gabbeh rugs are hand made by tribal nomads in Iran and often contain pictographs of events from their lives and land. The fine graphic example shown here at Momeni is only about 2' by 3', but they come much larger and could be used on a wall or on the floor. Although I have wall to wall carpet in my music room, I've added a Gabbeh for visual impact in the area of the listening triangle.
Strangely enough, in the Andy Warhol collection of rugs at Sphinx Rugs, there is an interesting design that uses the image of piano keys as the border around a solid red or black field. It is available as a circular rug, or in a wide variety of rectangular sizes. The collection takes design elements from Warhol's work and uses them as a starting point for the final design. As of yet, there is no Marilyn Monroe rug in the collection, if you were wondering.
For those wishing to diffuse sound, rather than absorb it, I found these interesting panels with colorful blocks affixed to the surface. I thought they were rather fascinating, being a creative take on the commercial diffusers that use blocks of different depth to create an inconsistent surface.
The Listening Chair
This chair by Natuzzi certainly catches the eye, but unfortunately, requires the listener to remove their shoes and wear thick hiking socks to avoid spurious reflections. It may also require the purchase of shorter speaker stands.
Designer Rick Lee is featured at American Leather and this chair is actually a recliner. Pushing back on the arms activates the footrest and reclines the seat back. It retains its position wherever you set it. It is also relatively narrow, allowing you to put several of these in a row for other listeners, or for use in a home theater. The retail cost is about $2500 to $3000 each, depending on the leather selected. The sectional pictured in the background is also by Rick Lee.
In the Design Center, I chanced upon this wonderful chair and ottoman with hair-on-hide leather that should appeal to those decorating in the cutting edge Gaucho style, or those whose spouse makes them listen out in the barn. The brindle hides used here guarantee that your chair will look like no one else's, unless of course, you specify hides from genetically cloned cattle. The use of hair-on-hide probably goes back even further than Le Corbusier's pony chaise of 1929 which was more commonly seen in traditional leathers. Today, high-end leather companies such as McKinley Leather use it as an accent trim on more traditional styles.
Art and Functional Art
The Showplace building in High Point houses hundreds of small vendors in addition to a few large ones such as American Leather. I stumbled upon Luminaire Designs from Miami, Florida, a company that specializes in contemporary lighting and home accents. Before me stood the instrumental icons of both classical music and rock ‘n roll. The first was a cocktail table, 52" by 52", shaped like a grand piano that retails for $3500 to $4000, depending on your neighborhood. A smaller version, 36" by 36", is also available if you want to maximize the floor space available for dancing. The second piece was a huge acrylic electric guitar that functions simply as a piece of sculpture and sells for $2500 to $3000, including the base. While the two pieces personify Liberace and Elvis, we must not forget Jerry Lee Lewis and others who shatter the stereotype.
While I don't sell any of the items pictured here, if you would like more information, feel free to contact me and I can put you in touch with most of the manufacturers. In the mean time, kick back and enjoy the music.