Wallpaper* and AHEC present Discovered at the Design Museum

Ahead of the exhibition at the Design Museum (13 September-15 October 2021), we catch up with designers Tomoko Azumi, Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska, Nathan Yong and Adam Markowitz, the four mentors from Discovered, an initiative from Wallpaper* and AHEC to support the next generation of designers

A small type of wooden chair
‘Migo 01’, by Pascal Hien, being made at the Benchmark workshop, England. Hien is one of 20 emerging creatives taking part to Discovered, an initiative by Wallpaper* and AHEC to support design’s next generation. All the designs from the project will be shown at the Design Museum, 13 September-15 October 2021
(Image credit: TBC)

Wallpaper* and AHEC announced Discovered (opens in new tab), a platform to support design’s next generation, in October 2020. Fast forward to ten months later, and the group of 20 international designers from 16 countries have created a series of works that not only consider the structural and expressive qualities of American hardwood, but also explore how our everyday objects help us reconnect and combat isolation in a pandemic-hit, increasingly virtual world.

Created over several in-depth virtual meetings with four international mentors – Tomoko Azumi, Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska, Nathan Yong and Adam Markowitz – and manufacturing workshops in England, Portugal, Malaysia and Australia, the 20 projects are ready to be presented through an exhibition at London’s Design Museum (13 September-15 October 2021).

Design development and mentoring process

A man working on the wooden furniture industry

‘Presences’, by Isabelle Baudraz, at WeWood, Portugal

(Image credit: press)

With a focus on American red oak, maple and cherry, each designer created an object that responds to their unique experience of a pandemic world. Participants were invited to think freely about their experience of living and working in isolation, and to create a piece that represents the functional and emotional connections to our everyday objects. Through their projects, they explored their own personal and cultural background, or involved their families into the design process. The diverse inspirations for each piece came from everyday life and from a desire to connect with nature and the outdoors.

‘To me, this has been a process to discover what’s really going on in the design world. It was so fresh, and nice to meet with talented young designers,’ said Azumi, noting how working closely with the designers she mentored over several months resulted in a two-way exchange, allowing her to learn about her own design and craft as well. 

Man with headphone and working

‘Iuxta Me’, by Vivienne Wong, at EvoStyle, Australia

(Image credit: press)

Each mentor worked with five designers from a specific region, offering guidance through every step of the process up to the finished prototype. ‘I tried to question the status quo of their projects and really see how they could develop them: some were very super precise from the beginning in what they wanted,’ says Jeglinska-Adamczewska. A similar approach was shared by Markowitz: ‘a lot of them actually had very preconceived ideas, and one thing that I attempted to do is get them to get rid of those, and take a step back.’

Shown together for the first time in September 2021, the 20 projects form an exciting panorama of current emerging design thinking. ‘It's been really meaningful, especially to re-asses what we have been doing as humankind: as designers, we have been churning out things, and I think we need to take this time to re evaluate what we are doing and what we have been contributing to society as a whole,’ says Yong. ‘So I thought this was a really good brief for the young designers to look at what they can give back to the world.’ 

Discovered: a sneak peek of the projects

The chunky volumes of the designs serve as a storage cabinet and a bench


(Image credit: press)

Sizar Alexis, Lahmu
Eskilstuna, Sweden
Wood: Cherry and scorched red oak

Having lived through the Iraqi war in the 1980s, Alexis imagined his home as a bunker, protecting his family and newborn son during the pandemic. Drawn to the similarities between his own childhood experience and his young son’s, his sculptural pieces are defined by stark monolithic forms and stillness. The chunky volumes of the designs serve as a storage cabinet and a bench, and were inspired by bunker architecture.

Isabelle Baudraz


(Image credit: press)

Isabelle Baudraz, Presences
Lausanne, Switzerland / Athens, Greece
Wood: Cherry

Fighting a feeling of isolation, Baudraz recreated tactile and emotional connections through her four objects. Inspired by the idea of bringing natural movements and forms into the home, her collection includes two suspended mobiles, a desk object, and a wall-mounted installation designed to create moments of tactile connection during days in isolation.

Nong Chotipatoomwan, Thought Bubble


(Image credit: press)

Nong Chotipatoomwan, Thought Bubble
Bangkok, Thailand
Wood: Red oak

A nostalgia for travelling and social interaction guided Chotipatoomwan’s creative thinking through her project. Physical transitions were replaced with changing states of mind, and the physical realm merged with the psychological realm through domestic space. The designer looked at furniture created for relaxation, and landed on a rocking motion, which became the basis for her chair, offering a mix of relaxation and repetitive movement to enhance mindfulness.

Mac Collins, Concur


(Image credit: press)

Mac Collins, Concur
Newcastle, UK
Woods: Cherry

While the term ‘isolation’ has acquired negative meaning over the course of the past year, for Collins, the word carries positive meanings. ‘For me, the word has always carried romanticised connotations of contentment, serenity, contemplation and a sense of withdrawal from the rigmarole of socially prescribed routine,’ he says. During his time alone, books became precious companions, and this inspired him to create a place for reflection and reading. His immersive double-armrest lounge chair (and bookrest ‘companion object’) encourages the sitter to tune out of daily life and focus on an analogue task.

Pascal Hien, Migo 01


(Image credit: press)

Pascal Hien, Migo 01
Berlin, Germany
Wood: Red oak

‘The pandemic was a time for pause and reflection, when we became more present with ourselves and our surroundings,’ observes Hien. His object, a multifunctional stool, is the result of the designer’s reflections during a time of change and uncertainty, learning to adapt and tune out of his fast-paced life. The stool represents this ever-changing life: ‘you can adapt it in various ways, there is no front or back, no right or wrong.’ It’s a helper around the house or a place to sit. While living with his family during the pandemic, Hien involved them in the testing of the piece, for the first time making them a part of his design work.

Kodai Iwamoto, Pari Pari


(Image credit: press)

Kodai Iwamoto, Pari Pari
Tokyo, Japan
Wood: Red oak

For his project, Iwamoto researched traditional Japanese techniques, such as uzukuri (giving texture to wood by scrubbing) and chouna (chiselling the surface with an adze), and then started experimenting directly on the wood, peeling its layers to create a new veneer. These imperfectly textured panels became the starting point for a design exploration that landed him on a round table shape, featuring the subtle material as the base to create the effect of an ancient tree trunk.

Josh Krute, Toteemi


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Josh Krute, Toteemi
Helsinki, Finland
Wood: Hard maple

Inspired by totems (toteemi meaning ‘totem’ in Finnish), Krute created a multifunctional storage system. As domestic spaces get taken over by work materials during time at home, Krute imagined a series of stackable boxes to stow work supplies and small objects, while other components serve as a side table, tray or stools. The modular system looks at tactile wooden objects, birdhouses and small structures, which Krute streamlined into a compact, practical design. ‘Toteemi provides solutions for how we delve between living and working in the same environment,’ he says.

Siyanda Mazibuko, Kumsuka


(Image credit: press)

Siyanda Mazibuko, Kumsuka (Evolve Your Space)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Wood: Thermally modified red oak

The inspirations for Mazibuko’s piece included isicholo, a hairstyle symbolising tribal identity in several African cultures, and indlamu, a tribal Zulu dance practised in celebratory ceremonies. He paired these visual references with a reflection on themes of engaging, human behaviour, and the role of design in people’s lives. ‘Engaging with other people is an intrinsic human trait,’ he says, citing this as the reason for his design, a modular, layered seat imagined for public spaces. He took a practical approach, looking into ergonomics and function to create his bench, composed of interlocking strips of timber.

Mew Mungnatee, Corners Lamp


(Image credit: press)

Mew Mungnatee, Corners Lamp
Bangkok, Thailand
Woods: Soft maple and cherry

Mungnatee’s emotional response to the objects surrounding her manifested in the relationship between form, light and shadow, and through this project, she explored this connection through geometry. Her lamp designs, inspired by pagodas, are based on a bulb casting a shadow over surfaces below thanks to an intricate grid composition featuring wooden slats and indented corners.

Trang Nguyen, The Roof Stool


(Image credit: press)

Trang Nguyen, The Roof Stool
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Wood: Cherry, red oak and hard maple

Nguyen looked at traditional Vietnamese roof tiles for her project, creating a collection of nesting stools that replicate the way the tiles overlap to hide the connecting structures below. Her simple stool design is inspired by traditional temple architecture and Vietnamese dresses, and features pins made of contrasting wood at the joint, which remains hidden when the stools are stacked and is revealed when in use. As people were spending more time at home, her design is imagined to provide extra seats, while creating a beautiful composition when not in use.

Alessandra Fumagalli Romario, Studiolo 2.0


(Image credit: press)

Alessandra Fumagalli Romario, Studiolo 2.0
Milan, Italy
Wood: Cherry

During extensive Zooming, video meetings and Insta-lives, Fumagalli Romario observed people’s curated backgrounds, which got her thinking about ‘the importance of objects as extension of ourselves: from one side, many boundaries are created, from another, boundaries disappear, private and public are mixed together’. She likened this curated space to the small studioli found in Renaissance paintings, and to cabinets of curiosities. Inspired by this, she created a visual background, a cabinet to present oneself through objects that could be exhibited or hidden. Using wood to convey depth, her design is a compact architecture that has both practical and aesthetic purpose.

Taiho Shin, Ikare


(Image credit: press)

Taiho Shin, Ikare
Seoul, Republic of Korea
Wood: Hard maple

During his time in isolation, Shin noted that ‘objects help human resilience through unusual situations’, and this thought served as the basis for his project. Guided by the ‘Ikea effect’ (consumers place higher value on products they partially created), he thought of a half-made design that users could partly assemble to foster interaction with their objects. He created one small table, put together thanks to an ingenious but simple-to-use joint system (no glue necessary), and the design multiplies to create a stackable system of shelves, suitable for different spaces.

Mimi Shodeinde, Howard Desk


(Image credit: press)

Mimi Shodeinde, Howard Desk
London, UK
Wood: Hard maple

The pandemic world is all about newness, observes Shodeinde: new dangers, and new ways of interacting, living and working. ‘In designing furniture for this new paradigm,’ she says, ‘we should lean into the familiar and the comforting. We should seek freedom, connection, stability and strength.’ These qualities are to be found in her design: a solid desk whose light forms contrast with the rigorous construction and weight of the wood. The designer looked to a vast pool of cultural references, from the compositions of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth to the modernist architecture of Lina Bo Bardi, and the aerodynamics of flight (pilot Howard Hughes inspired the name of the piece): these influences converged into a sinuous silhouette, a design that challenges the familiar but also offers a sense of safety.

The bench becomes a multifunctional space that can adapt to home, workspace or public environment.


(Image credit: press)

Juan Carlos Franco & Juan Santiago Sierra, Riverside
Colombia, Spain
Wood: Cherry

During isolation, objects change their function and their meaning, and we find ourselves looking for space within our space. This was the observation that kicked off Franco and Sierra’s project, which looked at how our furniture changes function and how adaptability is key (in a pandemic as much as in modern living). Inspired by adaptable design (such as Colombia’s pile dwelling houses), they created a bench that suits different needs, thanks to the addition of accessories such as backrests and trays that fuse into a central fissure. This way, the bench becomes a multifunctional space that can adapt to home, workspace or public environment.

Something is made out of clay


(Image credit: press)

Ivana Taylor, Reframe
Adelaide, Australia
Woods: Hard maple, cherry and red oak

Taylor’s own experience of solitude led to extensive periods of reflection, ultimately inspiring the designer to change her approach to designing and making. For this project, she aimed to ‘design a contemplative sculptural object that triggered reflection on the multi-layered nature of any experience, including isolation’. A recurring theme of her research featured ways of framing the view at different scales, and the resulting design is a sculpture made from a series of small carved objects that layer to create a composition acting as a ‘sculpted path for light’.

Rough pencil drawing


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Martin Thübeck, Rå
Stockholm, Sweden
Wood: Red oak

While confined at home with his young children, Thübeck found inspiration in the way they innately adapted their surroundings for play, challenging traditional ways to use furniture: ‘limitations became possibilities’, he commented. After looking at traditional furniture and playground equipment, he developed a piece whose construction is informed by traditional Swedish craftsmanship traditions, and whose function can be interpreted both as a chair or a slide by flipping it upside down. ‘This piece is a symbol of coexistence, and the act of turning it is like moving between worlds,’ he says, citing a combination of approaches that merges indoor and outdoor, static and movement, adults’ and kids’ points of view. ‘My intention is not to fully merge the two functions, but to see what happens when they are so close to each other that they become one,’ he says.

A cup is floated down a stream


(Image credit: press)

Yunhan Wang, Winding Stream
Zhuhai, China
Wood: Hard maple

Unable to perform habitual traditions during lockdown, people are confined to performing rituals at home. There is a novel need for suitable furniture and objects that can fit a small space but serve the same purpose. Wang wanted to create a domestic alternative to the ‘winding stream party’, a Chinese drinking custom in which poetry is composed while a cup is floated down a stream with people sat on both sides; the person sitting in front of the cup that stops has to drink it. Inspired by Hakka round houses, Wang created a compact table design with storage concealed in the legs and a central slit to fit trays and cups.

A cup is floated down a stream with people


(Image credit: press)

Vivienne Wong, Iuxta Me
Melbourne, Australia
Wood: Cherry

Dancer-turned-designer Wong looked at non-verbal communication as the starting point of her project, approaching the task from a personal point of reflection and knowledge. ‘I wanted to translate my previous understanding of how we can connect and communicate to one another,’ she says, looking to create a piece to nurture strength, intimacy and connection. Invisible physical boundaries and the creation of textures through light formed the basis of the project, which developed into a coffee table featuring interlocking echoed forms, where the functional joinery also becomes a decorative motif for the piece. Her design’s name, Iuxta Me (meaning ‘beside me’ in Latin), represents the desire for human connection and closeness that guided the process.

Sketch is drawn on book


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Tan Wei Xiang, Recollect
Singapore
Woods: Hard maple and red oak

Searching for a tangible physical connection to loved ones (beyond virtual calls), Tan resorted to keepsakes as a way to fight nostalgia. His keepsakes cabinet is imagined as a way to hold, preserve and give respect to the items we hold dear, and its forms were inspired by Singapore’s ubiquitous construction sites and the ridged zinc sheets used to protect them. Tan recreated this motif as the outer shell of his tall, lean cabinet, and created curved shelves to sit inside it, with a mirrored, polished brass circle, mimicking the sun setting on the horizon.

A cupboard sketch and it is painted


(Image credit: press)

Duncan Young, Shelter Within
Adelaide, Australia
Wood: Hard maple

Young focused on the materiality of timber, and how this organic material can help us connect with nature while confined at home. ‘For those in dense urban environments, lockdowns have impacted our physical and mental strength by limiting the biological need humans have for being in outdoor spaces,’ he says. He looked at studies analysing the positive impact of nature on physical and mental health, and as a result he created a modern cabinet of curiosities as a pillar to nature, for the user to engage with the natural world while at home. Featuring a solid carcass with discreet joinery and a moiré effect shelf (a design inspired by the historic symbolism of the cabinet as a theatre), the simple plinth celebrates wood by recreating the effect of walking into a glade.

INFORMATION

The twenty pieces have been made by Benchmark Furniture (UK), Evostyle (Australia), Fowseng (Malaysia) and Wewood (Portugal). Discovered is on view at the Design Museum 13 September-15 October 2021

discovered.global (opens in new tab)
designmuseum.org (opens in new tab)

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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.