Design for Delight :: WilsonArt Chair Design Competition Embraces Creativity and Craftsmanship

My day of design with my #designhound peers was sponsored in part by WilsonArt. Each year WilsonArt Challenges is hosted at a different American Design school – one that encourages innovative thinking and unique approaches. Each year a winning entry and five runners up are on display at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. All aspiring furniture designers should take note!

When I was in my late teens, many thousands of years ago, i had a summer job with a very eclectic group of kids. Working with me was a young man, a few years older than I. He was Indian and spoke with a very prominent English accent. He was a student at Yale University and whenever he introduced himself he would say "My name is So-and-so, and I'm going to be a furniture designer." He overly enunciated the word furniture in an upper-crust sort of a way, and for this we all mocked him, in a kind, teasing manner. I was curious. It seemed so esoteric to me. Meantime, as I was preparing to enter my Junior year in college I was clueless as to what I wanted to do with my life, and with the pressure to declare a major I opted for English. I was told that if I could write well, I could do anything. Now it seems I've almost come full circle. I hadn't thought of So-and-So the Furniture Designer until I sat down to write about the WilsonArt Challenge.  

Wilsonart is a leading manufacturer of decorative engineered surfaces and has - for more than a decade - hosted a unique challenge, which is incorporated into college curriculums. This challenge was created expressly for the next generation of designers to go above and beyond form and function. They must seek to encapsulate a story and project an emotion with their body of work, all the while celebrating the versatility of laminate. In essence, the story is told through creating something seemingly as simple as a chair. As you read on, however, you'll notice there's nothing simplistic about the competition, the students or their chairs. There is a stipulation, of course! Sponsored by WilsonArt, the students must use WilsonArt Laminate to answer their specific design challenge. 

This year "designed for delight" was their prompt to amuse and engage their audience with their chairs. I strongly encourage you to read the descriptions and inspirations behind each concept!

Stephen Marchio of the College for Creative Studies was chosen as the competition’s winner for his design, “Prelude.” The winning chair is a visual statement on craftsmanship. The form embraces the tension between construction and deconstruction, between fine craftsmanship and that which is “malfatto” or “badly made” in a playful sense. 

Back to the Future as a design concept: this chair projects into the future of a skilled designer's life while simultaneously honoring all the little steps they took to get there. The chair's form and concept are based on the idea that a maker often looks back on his or her work, perhaps beginning from childhood, and they feel a sense of progression. As the maker ages, their skills and abilities expand with them and suddenly their standards for quality change. 

The Prelude chair is a playful statement; simultaneously coming together and pulling apart. The form embraces the tension between construction and deconstruction, between fine craftsmanship and that which is "malfatto" or badly made in a playful sense. The name Prelude means "primary and this 12th year's competition winner is at the beginning of his career as a creative visionary. 

Alejandra Bucco designed the Pie Chair.

While I appreciate the art, construction and aesthetic of Prelude, a professed foodie and often-times food writer and critic, this chair immediately captured my attention. I could envision it in a family den, playroom or even in an urban cafe. Whimsical, it sparks immediate conversation. Bucco's chair is inspired by "the delight we find in eating something sweet. Baking homemade treats has become synonymous with a gesture of love toward those eating." Bucco is interested in the nostalgia associated with treats, such as pie, that have strong ties to family, home and passing traditions from generation to generation.

Kiho Jeong imagined the Root Bench. His idea was influenced by trees, playgrounds and children. "They perch, drape, curl up in on and in between all the branches and above ground roots. Children take forms and repurpose them to fit their bodies and their imagination." Jeong says his chair mimics the slants and bends that are created by the trees which invites the sitters to discover their own favorite pose. Much like the growth of trees, the form of the chair, or bench, is asymmetrical and highly irregular; these hallmarks in nature are not common in chair design. 

Adam Whittaker created En Throne, a bold and uncomplicated piece. His chair simultaneously infuses the sculptural, the graphic and the playful. The name he chose is a play on words. "En Throne" is derived from the Japanese calligraphy practice of drawing an Enso - a circle drawn in one fluid brush stroke. It symbolizes strength and elegance. The word throne was chosen because the chair is a noble seat that frames the sitter. His chair was creates a sense of wonder - it is imposing yet alluring. Whittaker says "I want the viewer to be filled with anticipation as they approach it and feel joy as they're encompassed by its grandiose form and intense blue." 

S1. Designed by Scott Pancioli the S1 chair strikes an elegant pose, sophisticated in design with great attention to detail. The restrained form is a combination of two element; the grey seat bucket and the set of turned wood legs. The maple seat pan, wool upholstered cushion and spun legs encapsulate the warmth and simplicity of Scandinavian design which the birch backrest finished with charcoal laminate compliments the seat. Much thought was put into the design and angles of the chair which make it incredibly comfortable. 

Zachary Boomer created the Geode Chair. A Geode is a rock that's filled with crystals and the chair pays homage to the surprise cluster of crystals found when opening a geode. Using a single shade of purple laminate, a compound, multi-faceted seating surface is created. Just as crystal reflects light, this chair uses light to create the effect of a color gradient through the use of just one color.

The concept was developed as a device to draw people in and inspire them to consider the material in a whole new light - literally. The color was chosen with its historical reference to the dyes and luxury associated with purple, and therefore refers to the most regal of statuses.  The chair is created largely from expanding foam and the only actual footprint of the sitter is surfaced in laminate.

About Wilsonart

Wilsonart, a world leading engineered surfaces company, is driven by a mission to create surfaces people love, with service you can count on, delivered by people who care. The company manufactures and distributes High Pressure Laminate, Quartz, Solid Surface, Coordinated TFL and Edgebanding and other engineered surface options for use in furniture, office and retail space, countertops, worktops and other applications. Operating under the Wilsonart®, Resopal®, Polyrey®, Arborite®, Ralph Wilson® and Durcon® brands, the company continuously redefines decorative surfaces through improved performance and aesthetics. For more information, visit or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About The College for Creative Studies

Located in the heart of Detroit, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) educates artists and designers to be leaders in the creative professions. A private, fully accredited college, CCS enrolls more than 1,400 students pursuing Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees. Students in the BFA program can major in Advertising: Copywriting, Advertising Design, Crafts, Entertainment Arts, Fashion Accessories Design, Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Illustration, Interior Design, Photography, Product Design, and Transportation Design, in addition to a dual major Art Education program. Students in the MFA program can major in Color and Materials Design, Interaction Design, Integrated Design, and Transportation Design. The College also offers non-credit courses in the visual arts through its Continuing and Precollege Studies programs and opportunities for youth through its Community Arts Partnerships programs.