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Meet Eny Lee Parker, This Year’s Breakout American Design Star

Eny Lee Parker is a very millennial designer, but don’t take that as a slight: A self-described creator of both objects and spaces, the prolific Savannah-based 28-year-old has conquered multiple mediums while deftly channeling the aesthetic zeitgeist. More than that, she has exhibited a keen understanding of design’s greater impact — how spaces and objects shape us, and how we shape them in return. “My parents were in the fashion world, so I grew up in a design-oriented family,” says Parker, who spent her childhood in Brazil. “But it wasn’t until I started grad school that I designed and built my first piece of furniture. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had never worked harder.” Parker shared her unique inspirations and process via social media and started to build an avid fan base (yours truly chief among them). “People assumed I was a legit business, so at some point I just said, why not?”

Her ingenuity and resourcefulness resulted in one of the most Instagrammable installations at last spring’s Sight Unseen OFFSITE, a — say it with us now — Millennial Pink™ space punctuated by blue velvet seating and terracotta-legged glass tables, akin to a David Lynchian waiting room by way of Miami; minimalism for the latent maximalist. With the support of Levi’s Made & Crafted — the denim brand’s elevated sister line, whose Instagram often profiles our favorite makers and designers — Parker dreamt up a space that played to her strengths: a compelling sense of proportion and scale that caters to our hyper-visual culture, a room that was not a static composition but a stage. “My question is: How important is furniture in the conception of living? I would say very,” says Parker. “But it all depends on how you much you value the physicality of it.” Bringing together something as earthy as terracotta with a material as impractical as velvet — this furniture is not meant to speak to our pragmatic impulses so much as foster new ways of seeing materiality, and new ways of contextualizing desire. (For a chair, at least.) We spoke with Parker about her latest project — sculptural earrings, naturally — her process, and what’s inspiring her now.

Photo credits: Beach photos by Gabriela Iancu. OFFSITE photos by Charlie Schuck.
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Describe your most recent project and how it was made.

The Artist Line, a collection of ceramic earrings, is my most recent project. Each style is hand-built in 4 different clay bodies: terracotta, black, off-white and sand. I laser-cut jigs and templates to fit most of the pieces. Once they are semi-dry, they are sanded and smoothed out. Some pieces are sponged with water to make them soft again, enough to interlock. Then they go through bisque firing and, for some, glaze firing.

SCAD Savannah – Fall 2016 – Atelier Program – Artwork Documentation – Eny Lee Parker – Photography by John McKinnon

SCAD Savannah – Fall 2016 – Atelier Program – Artwork Documentation – Eny Lee Parker – Photography by John McKinnon

SCAD Savannah – Fall 2016 – Atelier Program – Artwork Documentation – Eny Lee Parker – Photography by John McKinnon

Why did you decide to move into ceramics?

I fell in love with wheel-throwing few years ago, and wanted to challenge myself to create larger pieces within the context of furniture. I had never thrown that large. It was a lot of YouTube and asking local ceramicists for tips; my challenge is that I’m still a novice. I just started using different clay bodies and am learning that each acts so differently throughout the phases of trimming, firing, and glazing.

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SCAD Savannah – Fall 2016 – Atelier Program – Artwork Documentation – Eny Lee Parker – Photography by John McKinnon

How did you get started with terracotta? And why?

I chose terra cotta because it’s a very common clay body, and closest to us geographically. And I loved the idea of pulling something out of the ground and putting into a surface where we interact so often — tables.

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Parker’s booth at OFFSITE Photo © Charlie Schuck

What kind of medium-specific challenges have you run into?

It’s hard, especially when a table needs more than one leg, because of differences in shrinkage. I have to throw and trim each base at the same time, then slow dry them for about two weeks to make sure they are completely leveled. I trim a groove on the lip of the base and add a black silicone cord that secures the glass in place and levels any odd spacing that might be left. I’ve learned that I can only throw about twenty-five pounds at a time, so for some of the really tall pieces, I’ll throw them in sections and then attach them together.

Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.

I am continuing to explore ceramics as my main medium for furniture and objects. So far, I have designed a collection of mirrors with a curtain of ceramic chains. I’m also playing around with banana fibers, figuring out how to incorporate them into ceramic tables.

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Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.

I know it’s now fall, but the beach is still my favorite color story. The sand dunes, pampas grass, different skin tones, the ocean water and how it reflects light. It’s all pretty magical.

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What’s your favorite piece of art/design from the last ten years and why?

My favorite piece of contemporary art or design is probably the Roly Poly chair (in pink) by Faye Toogood. There’s something very humorous in its proportion, and timeless in its form.

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