Architectural Digest Home Design Show 2014: Spotlight On Ethan Abramson

To a Manhattanite, stepping into the Architectural Digest Home Design Show feels like crossing over into another world (or borough, at least)—one in which limited space is no longer a factor. It’s no wonder urbanites flock here to live out all kinds of furnishing fantasies. Filling the sprawling 200,000+ square footage of Manhattan's Pier 94, the show houses over 300 of the world's top interior designers, whose crafts range from lighting to textiles to carpentry and beyond.

It's wonderful. It's overwhelming. Somehow, I navigate my way to the booth of New York-based furniture designer Ethan Abramson. His work consists almost exclusively of sustainably forested woods like white oak and walnut. In the days leading up to the show, the Irving Chair was hailed as one of the “eight best new wooden chairs” by a little local paper called the Wall Street Journal. It’s the piece that spawned Abramson’s now extensive collection, which is distinguished by soft, swelling, and even gnarled lines that seem natural—yet are the result of laborious handcraft.

Noticeably devoid of these curves is the newer Honeycomb Table, which has more of a mid-century, angular appeal. It reveals the designer’s ability to broaden his style without losing its organic spirit. “It’s the easiest piece I’ve ever made,” he lightly confides—but we both know that these things are relative.

At the show, Abramson is in the company of countless other artists who call wood their medium. There’s gorgeous grain at every turn, often accompanied by brass and marble fittings or flashes of metallic. The evolution of American wood furniture is clear: Classic pieces are becoming more seamless and acutely refined, while upholding the rustic, homegrown character that differentiates them from, say, their Scandinavian counterparts.

Yet Abramson’s simple, sculptural work requires none of the elaborate flourishes seen throughout Pier 94. Not veiled by other materials or colorful finishes, it provides enviable transparency to the designer’s painstaking process. Imaginatively designed details, like a drawer that pivots open instead of sliding, allow each piece to feel fresh but not trendy—like a new breed of classic.

In spite of the show’s greater scope, Abramson’s booth is cozy. This is to his benefit; it’s a believable prototype of the city living quarters in which his pieces are designed to shine. Though sturdy (and I just had a small wrestling match with my Plateau Table to prove that point), these forms are compact and innately lightweight. At one point, the designer even whisks the Honeycomb Table up to eye-level to show off the golden maple highlights on its legs.

 “I’ve been here for two days and still haven’t had a chance to look around,” Ethan tells me, which I can only take as a good sign. His booth is heavily trafficked, and he readily engages visitors—“Do you want to know why it’s environmentally conscious?” (He uses a chemical-free, whey protein-based finish and works with minimal waste.) It’s no surprise the designer has publications and retailers knocking at his door.

 He is equally eager to introduce me to his neighbors, who include another woodsmith from New Mexico to his left, and two complementary Brooklyn-based designers sharing a booth to his right. Their camaraderie permeates the entire premises. There’s a shared excitement over the fact that so many inspired ideas can materialize in one place, if only for four fleeting days. Here’s hoping they’ll be here again in one short year; it promises to be an exciting one for Ethan Abramson.

  —Kate Canary

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