Principles of contemporary art was the theme that inspired students at Ryerson School of Interior Design, Toronto, ON., to design and build chairs for the 16th annual Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition. Beyond basic form and function, each design was also informed by how students used expressive and stylistic contemporary elements such as movement, proportion, contrast, or balance. Using patterns from the Wilsonart Laminate Collection, students designed their own pieces, with the best design taking first place, following five runner ups. The students were set to exhibit their designs at booth #1839 at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, until the event was cancelled due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
This year, Wilsonart worked with The Ryerson School of Interior Design and with the University’s Creative Technology Lab at FCAD, an advanced technology-based workshop that supports creative research, specialized curriculum and entrepreneurship activities across all nine FCAD Schools and Ryerson Zones.
Amy Yan took home first place with her design “The Not Loveseat.” The chair is a playful commentary on the dualistic nature of both human relationships and architectural volumes. The two curved seat backs appear to be under significant tension as though the chair is being stretched apart by the sheer volume that make up the two seats. The resulting image could be a heart or viewed as a peace symbol suggesting that the chair embraces the dualities of love and peace along with the notions of splitting and separation.
“The purpose of design is to elicit an emotional response,” Yan noted. “Design conveys a narrative, and then in turn, that narrative is able to shape the way we see the world.”
Amy’s chair poses a fundamental question; can these seemingly opposing notions exist together? Going a step further, can they even exist without each other as conflicting as they may seem? Judges noted that Amy’s chair was the perfect dialog between art and design.
Wilsonart created Wilsonart Challenges, which is both a sponsored class and a competition. During the year-long program, students learn how to design and build a one-of-a-kind chair, as well as how to prepare for a major trade show. Introducing the program more than a decade ago, Wilsonart Challenges is the longest-running sponsored student design class in North America.
Student: Brittany Boudreau
Contact Info: email@example.com
WILD is a contemporary twist on the toad stool; it explores the contrasting relationship between life and death. When a tree dies, a new life begins in the form of wild mushrooms. Similarly, laminate is mostly made of paper; hence, a tree dies and is reborn as laminate. The mushrooms are made out of circles because circles represent life, while the one and only linear line in this piece, the front edge of the tree stump, is meant to represent death. The death of a tree is the birth of something else.
Student: Meredith Davis
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Meredith Davis wanted to make a stationary chair that appears dynamic, and the playful yet profoundly elegant STANCE is her solution. STANCE succeeds in bringing life to a flat material without bending the plane. The form of the chair is inspired by a four-legged animal and is designed to create a natural sense of movement. The chair is composed of only three pieces, creating a visual balance of solids and voids by playing with curves and straight edges. Despite the chair only having flat members, the thin planes look as if they are moving or flowing. Depending on how it is observed, the chair appears to be running away from or approaching its observer.
Student: Monica Beckett
Contact info: (905) 995-0560
The name PARADOX refers to the fact that this chair has no one upright state, yet it can be used right-side up and upside down. One side is a 32” bar height, and the other is a 16” standard dining chair height; used either way, the chair still works. The shape of the chair and its 2:1 ration was inspired by a cocktail jigger. This measurement, or comparison of quantities, creates a tension of opposites, which is represented through the bold opposing colors assigned to each orientation.
Student: Alice Sills
Chair: BALANCING ACT
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Bold and fun, BALANCING ACT is a playful composition of three colorful shapes that interact in a peaceful and balanced way. As one walks around the chair, these forms cheerfully change and play together. Viewed from the front, the forms create the large seat and armrest of the chair, while the side profile affords a clean-lined, geometric composition, with an angled profile that offers a sightline through the chair itself.
Student: Ryan Anning
Chair: FRENCH KISS
Contact info: ryan.lee.anning@gmail
FRENCH KISS is a playful commentary on the history of art and design. The French curve is the artistic tool which made the Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau styles possible. In an homage to the great pop artist Claes Oldenburg, the tool itself becomes the subject matter in monumental scale. The S-curve form of the French curve is a play on the classic tête-à-tête chaise; upended and used unexpectedly. The exuberant turquoise color gives a cheeky camp aesthetic making the piece even more joyful.