Tom Chung’s designs are inspired by the great outdoors

Designer Tom Chung – tipped as a Future Icon by Wallpaper* –talks about being inspired by his Canadian childhood and the meaning of friends in the industry

Tom Chung and lighting design for Muuto
Designer Tom Chung and his lighting design for Muuto
(Image credit: Anh Dao)

Rotterdam-based Canadian designer Tom Chung established his studio in 2015, with the aim to create ‘context-driven industrial design pieces for domestic, institutional and public environments’. 

Having founded his studio in Vancouver at 25, Chung's early works were driven by the need to easily transport them to Europe to exhibit them ('they had to fit a suitcase,' he explains). Since moving to Rotterdam in 2019, he notes, his work has become larger and more experimental: ‘More than anything, the economic and pragmatic conditions of my studio shape my practice.’

Piton Portable lamp by Tom Chung for Muuto

‘Piton’ portable lamp by Tom Chung for Muuto

(Image credit: Neil Godwin at Future Studios for Wallpaper*)

Tom Chung and the designs that make him a Future Icon

Chung was inspired by flashlights and outdoor gear to create the ‘Piton’ portable lamp for Muuto, defined by an industrial aesthetic and versatile functionality. The collaboration between Chung and Muuto started in early 2018, and the portable lamp was previewed at Hyères’ Design Parade before being further developed for production.

‘The starting point of this project was reflecting on how we are living in cities and our desire for wilderness within these spaces,’ he says. He was inspired by the ongoing trend of city dwellers moving to rural and remote areas, and drew from his childhood in Vancouver, surrounded by nature and wilderness, to develop the design.

'I lived an active childhood and grew up spending a lot of time outdoors,' he explains, noting this was a key influence on his desire to design. 'Within these spaces, I developed a fascination for performance equipment, natural objects, and a sensitivity to the built environment.'

Tom Chung Studio

Chung's studio, featuring pieces from the ‘Fromme’ collection for Petite Friture and the ‘Piton’ lamp for Muuto

(Image credit: Courtesy Tom Chung)

Among his earlier works were ‘Beam’, a lamp informed by utilitarian objects, which was shown at Stockholm Furniture Fair in 2017 and is now produced by Muuto, and ‘Fromme’, a collection of chairs and stools that is part of the Petite Friture catalogue. '[These were] the first works I made after quitting my job to pursue independent practice: they allowed me to find my own distinct method of working,' Chung explains. 'All of the work had a very clean and industrial language and was made using semi-automated industrial manufacturing around Toronto.'

Tom Chung design

‘Fromme’ chairs for Petite Friture

(Image credit: Courtesy Tom Chung)

Among his upcoming projects is a flagship retail space in downtown Toronto; a self-initiated research project using fused glass; a 3D-knit lighting collection three years in development; and a collaboration with Canadian furniture brand Part & Whole, for which Chung has curated the art direction as well as created new sofa designs. 

When asked what advice he'd offer for the future generations of designers, his approach to the profession becomes clear: 'Invest in your friends, invest in relationships and rethink the existing models and power structures in the industry.'

Tom Chung design

Prototypes of stackable aluminium containers

(Image credit: Courtesy Tom Chung)

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.