March 28, 1990 12:00 PM

There came a point in the ’80s when you could swear that the hot designer was Darth Vader. Everything from coffee makers to typewriters was black, glinting and brutal. Even the simplest stereo looked primed to launch a nuclear attack against something small and defenseless—probably you. (No wonder people spent so much time in restaurants; staying home was too scary.) Inevitably there came a counter-trend: the ersatz traditional look, via Ralph Lauren or Laura Ashley. It all made you dream of sitting by the fireplace with your collie—especially if you didn’t have a fireplace and a collie.

So if you are tired of trying to mix morbid electronics and lace doilies, we have good news. The designs of the ’90s will find a balance between the starship Enterprise and Miss Marple’s cottage. The idea is to produce objects both rational and sensuous. You’ll see plenty that’s plump and curvy, with no hard edges to nick the kids or scrape the tired bones of old baby boomers. And lots that’s burnished, softly glowing and—could it be?—comfortable. Before you peruse the items on these pages, why don’t you stash the tubular steel furniture? Forget the hard chairs. Bring out the easy ones.

Forget user-friendly. In the ’90s, home technology will be user-cuddly, like this $34.95 Zelco Double Plus calculator that has more grabbable curves than Jessica Rabbit. Chicago industrial designer DONALD BOOTY JR., 34, says that when his firm embarked on the project, “We were struck by the fact that the electronics in calculators was state of the art but that the ergonomics wasn’t.” Snuggle the Zelco in your palm, and it practically begs you to run your magic fingers up and down its vivid buttons.

SAYZIE CARR says it’s curtains for you. Actually it’s drapery—all over the damn place. The Manhattan-based decorator drapes windows, ceilings, walls and tired furniture in billows of fabric, from $3-a-yard cotton muslin to $50-a-yard pure silk (her fees start at $200 a window, fabric extra). “Silk lasts 25 years,” she says. “Muslin could last 10.” The wrappings need to be cleaned every year or so, but clients can learn to rehang them without her. “I treat the fabric as sculpture,” says Carr, 36, who was trained as a painter. This must be what people mean by wrap artists.

You’ve heard of revival tents. Get ready for the tent revival. The scalloped structures of artist-designer BILL MOSS, 66, are made from flexible aluminum poles threaded through nylon mesh fabric. They can serve as carports, pool houses, undulating gazebos, store canopies, whatever, and cost $150 to $500. (He’s now making one large enough to serve as a church for an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco.) The fabric repels water, admits air and keeps out anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent of the sunlight. Moss, who is currently working at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz., expects his tents to blow into your mall by late 1991.

There’s nothing wrong with overhead lighting, and, yes, it does encourage conversation—in police interrogations. The other problem is that when you rheostat it up, overhead makes guests look like they rose from the dead. These copper lamps, on the other hand, cast a rosier luminescence, some of it through patterned perforations and stained-glass in the shades. CLAIRE DlSHMAN, 29, started making them three years ago, after a local psychic told her she should be working in metal. “The lamps are atmospheric,” she says. “They’re like pieces of jewelry at night.” Prices range from $300 to $2,000. Luminary purchasers like Sandra Bernhard, Kelly McGillis and Jodie Foster now regard copper as the only way to glow.

Ancient Romans and later medieval folk ate and drank from it. Colonial craftsmen made tableware from it. Now pewter is again the metal of the moment. Instead of the harsh glint of aluminum and polished brass, pewter has a lovely low luster and a venerable feel even in new designs like these by LISA JENKS (prices range from about $65 for the letter openers to $155 for the trapezoidal picture frame with round opening). “People want a little refuge when they come home,” says the 32-year-old Manhattan jewelry designer, who also conjures a pewter teapot for $185. “They want things to be cozier.”

Who said, “No pain, no drain”? Not the people at FROGDESIGN, who created Magic Line pots for Fissler, a West German maker that will distribute them in the U.S. this year. Prices will range from $50 to $100 each. Note that part of the lip is wavy and perforated so you can drain pasta or veggies without lifting the cover. And the Duroplastic handles are textured and heat resistant to keep your hands from slipping, or worse. Explains Harmut Esslinger, founder of the international design company: “You have to see design as a bridge between technology and people.”

You May Like