Design Fair 2012: Practical with a Touch of Recycled Chic

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For more photos from this year's Design Fair, check out our slideshow.

Judging from the pieces presented at Design Fair 2012, the look right now is modern, yet practical -- with a touch of recycled chic.

Every year Design Fair is hosted at Lawndale Art Center, a perfect venue for such an occasion: the spacious, three-story building is large enough to collectively house big furniture pieces like couches and coffee tables, yet acoustic enough to allow for lively, extended discussions with the designers, identifiable, department store-style, by their friendly nametags.

The weekend-long event began with a see-and-be-seen preview party on Friday night, followed by a subdued Saturday and Sunday of guests milling about the indoor bazaar for furniture, fashion, books and other random bits and pieces. We thought of the fair as a three-story layer cake; each floor was stuffed full of practical furniture pieces, with random knickknacks, like Jonathan Clark's awesomely weird pencil cluster bundles, spread throughout for taste.

Barry Jelinski's Austin-based Howl Interiors, inspired by Allen Ginsberg's angry and controversial beat poem of the same name, was a perfect example of this.

"I'm trying to spread the gospel of handmade craftsmanship," said the quirky designer, whose furniture consists of "found object pieces," such as a coffee table created out of grapevine, and a phonograph with a revolving Plexiglas head. He railed against the so-called rules of interior design, advising instead that "You should surround yourself with what makes you happy."

Michael Garman, owner of One3Creative, employs the use of efficiency and eccentricity as well, but takes it a step further with the titles of his pieces. Every single piece in his collection, he says, is given a four-letter title, even if the word is grammatically supposed to be spelled with five or more. "BNC4," "bench" spelled with an upside-down four, "B3AM," "beam" spelled with the number three, and "LG4T," or "light," with another upside-down four, are a few examples. The furniture itself is a also study in the fair's eye-catchingly efficient philosophy; his wooden "BNC4" coffee table, all rough-hewn sides and baby soft top, proves this.

On the second floor -- or layer -- was Barbara Hill, owner of Pulpoetry, who incorporates her writing self into her designing self with short stories screen printed onto chairs. Once again, fun and functionality are at work -- although Hill said that the idea's genesis was pretty benign.

"I had two chairs that needed something on them," Hill remarked, "and it just snowballed."

The city's fashion boutiques were the icing and cherry at the very top of Lawndale. David Peck's New Orleans-inspired CrOp apparel line was yet another example of panache and practicality. His pieces, printed with actual New Orleans locales on the clothing, give 10% of the proceeds to the Gulf Coast Network, while Westheimer's Coquette Boutique and Bistro pays homage to iconic model Kate Moss with its cute, frilly clothing, beaded necklaces and bedazzled sleep masks.

According to Christine West, Lawndale's executive director, Design Fair began 17 years ago as a fundraiser for the alternative art space. The original name of the fair was Midcentury Modern Market then, only showcasing midcentury designs and designers, but the advisers began adding contemporary designs in 2010 as a way to welcome the growing number of them in Houston.

Now, says West, the event has become "multi-fold," raising money for Lawndale's nonprofit space and to "celebrate, build awareness about and promote cutting-edge contemporary design."

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