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Thrifty design pays off for students at International Contemporary Furniture Fair

Scissors, a chandelier and stools all cost a dollar or less to make.

May 23, 2009|Barbara Thornburg

NEW YORK — One of the most innovative booths at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair was No. 1174, where industrial design students from the Pratt Institute in New York created furniture, lighting and home accessories -- all for a buck.

In the "Design for a Dollar" exhibition, egg cartons and old sweaters morphed into lamps, dated magazines into flower-shaped stools, melted bottle caps into bowls. Show visitors pressed the booth, sometimes four-deep, wanting to know: "How'd you do that?"

Jennie Maneri, 32, grew her own lamp. The Brooklyn resident tied simple pipe cleaners into round shapes, then immersed them in a solution of powdered soap and boiling water. It took six hours for crystals to encrust the pipe cleaners and create her tongue-in-cheek Crystal Chandelier shade. She estimates that she used 40 cents' worth of 20 Mule Team Borax and spent about 60 cents on the pipe cleaners to meet the dollar challenge.

Inspired by making rock candy and growing crystal garden kits as a kid, Maneri said, "There is magic in the process -- when you see the crystals actually growing in front of your eyes."

Brian Persico, 22, of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., fashioned stylish scissors from a circular-saw blade donated by a grinding shop in Brooklyn. Persico laser-cut the scissors pattern out of the thin steel blade, then polished and smoothed the parts. The only material expense came with the connecting pin that serves as a hinge and locking mechanism. Cost: 35 cents.

"Want to cut something with them?," he asked enthusiastically. "They're incredibly sharp."

First-year industrial design graduate student Li-Rong Liao of Taiwan conjured up a solution for what to do with those piles of outdated magazines. She selected six magazines, loosely folding inside pages into thin-walled cells that looked like petals from above. Then she hot-glued the petals together into her flower-shaped Mag Stool.

"The magazine is a strong, modular structure in itself," said Liao, who collected back issues of Architectural Digest, Dwell and Harper's Bazaar for free off the street on trash collector's day. Because she already owned a glue gun, her only material cost, she said, was for 1 1/2 sticks of hot glue. Cost: 29 cents.

Catherine "Cat" Merrick, a product design student from Las Vegas with a fine arts background in painting, used her skills to merge past and present in her artful Drip Plates.

She purchased an old Currier & Ives plate with a blue-and-white winter scene from her local Salvation Army for 69 cents. She carefully dribbled it with wax melted in a double boiler, then sandblasted it down to the white porcelain base, allowing some of the original imagery to peek through. Then she placed the plates in the freezer for half an hour, so the wax would harden and crack off more easily.

"I'm creating a historical dialogue between myself and another designer I have never met," she said. "There's a mystery about it."

Pratt industrial design professor Mark Goetz acted as faculty advisor for the student project.

"The overwhelming response we've been getting at the show is how appropriate the theme, 'Design for a Dollar,' is for the times," he said. "But more importantly, what these students did was to use their creativity to create something from nothing."

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barbara.thornburg@latimes .com

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