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An Oiva Toikka Bird Inspired by Sight Unseen’s New York

Earlier this year, Iittala invited us to be a part of its Bird and the City series, in which we — along with four other bloggers around the world — were tasked with helping glass artist Oiva Toikka to create a bird dedicated to each of our respective hometowns: New York, Tokyo, Helsinki, Shanghai, and Paris. The blue and white swirled critter above represents not just New York, but our New York.

Portuguese Designer Célia Esteves of GUR Rugs

While Portugal is probably best known, these days, for manufacturing clothing and shoes for big brands like COS, Zara, and Camper — or if you're a product designer, for supplying 50% of the world's cork — Porto-based designer and printmaker Célia Esteves homed in on its longtime flat-weave rug-making tradition when she founded GUR two years ago. After meeting a weaver in her hometown of Viana de Castelo, who for 15 years had been handcrafting the style of rug that she'd seen on "every Portuguese kitchen floor" since she was a child, Esteves decided to hire the weaver to use the same technique to produce colorful limited-edition designs commissioned from illustrators she knew and admired, like Atelier Bingo and Ferreol Babin. We recently interviewed Esteves about the project, which has collabs with Après Ski and Reality Studio on the way; scroll down to read more about how she transformed a local craft into a contemporary design brand.

Mathieu Julien and Jin Angdoo of Amateurs

For all its perks — freedom, travel, never having to take off your pajamas — the freelance life has one perpetual drawback: the panic that starts to creep in whenever you're between jobs. Add that to the sense of creative fulfillment that every designer and artist craves, and it's no wonder so many of them start their own projects on the side. For the Paris-based couple Mathieu Julien and Jin Angdoo, whenever they don't have work as a freelance illustrator (Julien) and a film and animation director (Angdoo), they dream up new projects to release under the extra-wide umbrella of their shared endeavor, Amateurs; launched in June, the website comprises projects that are experimental, hand-crafted, and fall somewhere between art and design, like painted tea towels and flags, embroidered sweaters and blankets, plus actual paintings as well. We checked in with the duo to find out more about the collaboration.

Visit Us This Weekend at Tinseltown, With Refinery29

Last week we shared with you our official Sight Unseen holiday gift guides, which were full of links to our most-coveted design and fashion items this year. But for those of you who prefer to browse in person — and will be in New York this weekend — we're taking our wish lists IRL at Tinseltown, Refinery 29's annual holiday shopping event, which we're co-hosting this year. Sight Unseen has invited seven amazing vendors to offer their wares for sale: Alex Proba, Best Made Company, Bower, CHIAOZZA, Dusen Dusen, Fredericks & Mae, and MAKE Cosmetics. Refinery29 are hosting RillRill and Print All Over Me, plus a cat-themed boutique and a hairstyling bar. Best of all, CHIAOZZA's Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza will be on hand all weekend offering personalized papier-mâché plants, so you can choose custom colors and patterns and get them painted for you on the spot! It's all happening at OpenHouse in Nolita, 201 Mulberry Street, on December 13 and 14, from 12PM to 8PM each day.

Father Magnus Wenninger, Mathematician

The folks who rank as internet celebrities in Sight Unseen’s world — usually those with a killer eye and a massive following on Tumblr or Instagram — would no doubt seem obscure to most. But even our regular readers might be surprised by today's unconventional yet equally influential story subject. A few years ago, after stumbling across some articles about mathematician Father Magnus Wenninger on the web, we added him to our “Minnesota” file, whose sole other occupant at the time was RO/LU; earlier this summer, we finally had an occasion to open said file when SU contributor Debbie Carlos asked if she could shoot anything for us there. Carlos was game enough to track down the nonagenarian priest — who became a cult figure in the mathematics world (and later in the online world) for his elaborate paper-polyhedron models — in his home at St. John’s Abbey outside Minneapolis. Not only did she photograph Wenninger and his works, she got him to open up about his history and his methodology as well.
If you don’t have the fortitude to build your own Sculpey mobile, of course, you can always purchase one of Fort Makers’ existing wooden mobile designs in the studio’s online shop.

Make a Sculpey Mobile, With Fort Makers

The team behind Fort Makers don’t refer to themselves as a design studio but rather an “artist collective,” and there’s a marked difference: They make functional objects, but instead of producing a stream of products with a unified aesthetic, they each work individually under the studio umbrella, experimenting with whatever interests them at any given time. In a way, it’s that same sense of structureless structure that first attracted Noah Spencer to the idea of making mobiles: You can hang pretty much anything from them, as long as you get the balance right. “Any kind of visual language can be carried into the mobile world,” says Spencer, a Paul Loebach and Uhuru Design alum who co-founded Fort Makers in 2008. While he primarily makes models hung with simple wooden shapes, he’s also been toying around lately with more expressive elements made from polymer clay (aka Sculpey), a method he graciously offered to teach Sight Unseen readers in this tutorial.

Hazel Stark’s New Textiles

It was only just last year that we were wondering what brilliance Hazel Stark would produce if ever she turned her attention to designing and making full-time, and already we have the answer. Having left her job with Ally Capellino earlier in the summer, Stark initiated work on her new collection, Naturally Dyed #1, with a long period of research into materials.

Fruits of Labor by Bethan Laura Wood

Sighted this week on Pin-Up magazine's website, making-of images from the latest project of London talent Bethan Laura Wood, a series of summer window displays for Hermès UK called "Fruits of Labor." Pin-Up's editors call the project, which consists of classical still lifes full of oversized fruits and vegetables, "Henry Rousseau in 3-D." Says Wood of the project: "I really wanted these large-scale sets to be hand-painted in order to highlight the layers handcrafted at every stage that make up final Hermès products.”
Chiao and Frezza — both longtime houseplant junkies — especially love how the act of making the faux plants is a kind of metaphor for growing real ones. “You start with the base, a root system for it to stand,” says Chiao. “Then you have to build a skeleton or armature for things to go on. You have meat that fills it in. You have a surface coat.” Adds Frezza: “You start to feel like a gardener. So sculpture as gardener I guess is one of the big attractions to continuing that process.”

Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza, Art and Design Duo

Partners in both life and work, Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza share a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where they run an art practice together as well as a design company called Chiaozza. Yet the first two things they ever collaborated on belonged to neither of those disciplines: One was a stew they made for dinner soon after they began dating — which took so long to cook that joking about it inspired their eventual website name, — and the other was the pancakes they made the next morning. “We were fascinated by their topography, so we took some printmaking ink, inked up a pancake, and started making monoprints with them,” Frezza recalls. “That was when it began, this idea of turning our everyday life and domestic play into some kind of product or work.” Two and a half years later, it’s still the motivation underlying many of their colorful projects, which they characterize as existing at the "intersection of imagination and the natural world."
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John Hogan, Glass Artist

It goes without saying that not every artist who grows up in Toledo, Ohio, famed birthplace of the American studio glass movement, ends up dedicating their life's work to that medium. But for John Hogan, that's exactly what happened — he started experimenting with glass at a young age and, even after relocating to Seattle a few years back, hasn't stopped since.

Renate Müller at R & Company

Renate Müller is 68 years old and has been designing children's toys for half a century, some of which she created for her family's toy factory in Sonneberg, Germany, in the '60s and '70s, and the rest of which she still makes by hand in her nearby studio, as part of the personal line she began in 1978. The materials she uses for that line have stayed exactly the same ever since (jute, wood, leather), as has her process and her policy of working alone, save for the occasional hand lent by her daughter. Many of her animal typologies have remained perennial, too. Yet when it came time to create 26 new pieces for her second solo show at New York design gallery R & Company, which opened yesterday, Müller decided to bust out a pretty major — and amusing — twist: Surrealist creatures with two heads, or no heads, that only someone with a very vivid, childlike sense of imagination could possibly dream up.

Tombstone Chairs by Greg Buntain of Fort Standard

From an outside perspective, the Brooklyn furniture-design studio Fort Standard exudes the aura of a successful business with a clear DNA. Yet that wasn't always the case: When co-founders Ian Collings and Greg Buntain first joined forces in 2011, after graduating together from Pratt, they had no idea what direction to take — they simply dove headlong into the making process. “We had one goal: to do our own thing,” Buntain said in a recent interview. Their stock may have risen since then, but behind the scenes, the pair still make an effort to keep things loose; to maintain a sense of discovery in their shared practice, they both do separate solo work on the side, little personal experiments and objects they create for their own homes. Occasionally these prototypes are developed into Fort Standard products, but most of the time they go unseen, as was the case for Buntain's marble Tombstone chairs before we spotted them on Instagram. When we approached the designer to ask him if we could share them with you in the interview after the jump, it turned out he had a home full of personal pieces he'd made but also never shared with the public, which he was kind enough to walk us through in the second half of this story.