In addition to practicing design, I teach it. Teaching rewards me as well as (hopefully) my students: it enables me to impart an appreciation for design to my students while reinforcing the depth of my knowledge and experience. That's why it was such a treat to see the winner and runners-up of Wilsonart's Challenges Student Chair Design Competition at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) a week ago in New York City.
This is the 12th year that Wilsonart, a leader in engineered surfaces, notably laminate, has sponsored this competition. The competition challenges students and budding furniture designers to create a unique chair using Wilsonart laminate. Each year the students' creations are inspired by a different theme, this year's theme being "design for delight." Wilsonart hosts the competition at a different American design school every year. The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan -- a private, fully accredited college with a student body of 1,400 students, granting bachelor and masters degrees in the Arts -- was chosen this year.
While "design for delight" might have been the theme of the chairs -- resulting in designs that ranged from whimsical to avant garde -- the engineering feat undertaken by the students to create a functional seat with a somewhat immalleable material was inspiring. I couldn't help but thinking that it was only 70 years ago that Charles and Ray Eames figured out a way to bend plywood with their LCW chair, an invention that paved the way for the students' creations.
Whimsy was clearly at the heart of runner-up Alejandra Bucco's Pie Chair. The checkerboard pattern with apple silhouettes was created with laminate!
Runner-up Adam Whittaker's En Throne chair was also an amusing take on the iconic royal seat.
Veering toward the avant garde was the chair created by contest winner, Stephen Marchio. His Prelude chair enchanted the judges through its use of pastel colors and slanting angles. Explained Design Historian and Wilsonart Challenges Program Director Grace Jeffers, “The slanting angles of this chair are an optical illusion, which distract us from the fact that the lines of this form are perfect right angles."
I also loved the experimentation with form in the Geode Chair by the second runner-up, Zachary Boomer. The chair beckoned me to "take a seat." What the chair lacked in comfort, it made up in imagination.
Contest winner Stephen Marchio set this intention for his winning chair: to reflect “the idea that a maker often looks back on his or her work from years ago and can get the sense of progression. It projects into the future of a skilled designer’s life while simultaneously honoring all the little steps they took to get there.” . . . kinda the same experience I get from teaching. I hope that the students can look back at the experience afforded them by Wilsonart as the springboard for long and successful design careers. Congratulations finalists.
Disclaimer: Wilsonart was a sponsor of my trip to the ICFF. Chair pictures courtesy of Wilsonart.