Is it furniture? Is it art? You decide

By Sujata Burman

3 minute read

“Creation is not a formula,” said Charlotte Perriand, the late French architect and designer, known for her experimental and pioneering work that synthesised art forms.

Think low, abstract-oval coffee tables, beautifully curved chaise longues and the Nuage modular bookshelves that became Perriand’s signatures. 

One look at international fairs like Design Miami confirms that there are still no strict guidelines to making furniture. Functional ideals continue to be skewed on all levels – it’s definitely not just about utilitarian structures, clean lines and four-legged chairs. These days Perriand would be in good company, with a cohort of contemporary designers investigating colour, material and proportion, all shifting our perspective on the everyday language of design. Hailing from Seoul to Rotterdam, these talents are providing us with the chunky, the abstract, the delicate and the delicious.

Seungjin Yang

Mobile Seungjinyang
Top: Cover design by Dorian Renard. Above: Hero Blowing Series by Seungjin Yang

Seungjin Yang

Let’s start with South Korea-based Seungjin Yang, who turns balloons into furniture. The Blowing Series draws on a childhood nostalgia that we can all relate to – the modelling of balloons into animals at parties – creating a new narrative for these playfully exaggerated shapes. Yang, who has a BA in Metal Art & Design from Hongik University, takes the concept beyond the miniature, realizing stools, chairs and benches from flexible yet fragile latex. 

Why don’t they burst? Well, the designer layers latex with epoxy resin to ensure these are sculptures you can actually sit on. His first iterations retained some translucency, but for the second, he layered up the resin to achieve a glass-like quality in a stronger colour palette. Explosive in their impact, if not form.

Sabine Marcelis

2 Candycubes Sabinemarcelis Credit Jeroen Verrecht
Candy cubes by Sabine Marcelis; photograpby by Jeroen Verrecht

Sabine Marcelis

“My worst nightmare is if someone sees my work and quickly moves past, with no additional questions,” says Rotterdam-based designer Sabine Marcelis, discussing her style in an Instagram Live interview with the director of Vitra Design Museum, Mateo Kries. Like Yang, Marcelis is also determined to alter our view on specific materials, with an aesthetic that sees soap, sunsets and donuts feature as multi-sensory motifs. 

Find your reflection in the warm sunset of her 2016 mirror series, Seeing Glass Off Round Hue, made for Copenhagen-based gallery Etage Projects in collaboration with Brit van Nerven. The colour gradient of each piece of reflective glass is more satisfying than any Instagram filter, playing with the light to create optical illusions and a whole new view of you.

“I am a big fan of minimal shapes,” she says, “but it shouldn’t be boring.” There is nothing boring about her fluffy wool rug for Carpet Sign that sees ring donuts humorously stitched on repeat. Or her dining tables and chairs that – thanks, again, to the magic of resin – appear to be made of soap, suggesting a fragrant bubble bath. Elsewhere, furniture is served up like food: a candy-coloured, polished resin totem looks good enough to lick; as do donuts (sensing a favourite food?) made from leftover resin in her studio, intended as Christmas decorations.

Katie Stout

Blaine Davis For Katie Stout And Nina Johnson Gallery
Blaine Davis for Katie Stout and Nina Johnson Gallery

Katie Stout

Domestic life made fun through sculpture is also a theme of Brooklyn-based Katie Stout’s work – in this case, using clay. It is easy to get lost in her self-described “naïve pop” collages that subvert furniture via various caricatures. Household objects take on personalities, delivering anthropomorphic charm in lamps with arms, vases with faces and a mirror held by the buttocks of a small, blue clay woman – “Lol, I always forget about her,” says the artist. “How lovely!”

Pushing the boundaries of form in another direction is French designer Dorian Renard. A graduate from the Design Academy Eindhoven, Renard blows plastic as if it were glass, elevating the maligned material to “a new notion of beauty, one that is alluringly twisted and bent, instead of being industrially morose”. His collection, The Beauty of Distortion, consists of ethereal blown-plastic sheets and tubes. Are these warped figures stools or coffee tables, or simply art? We will leave you to decide.

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