Wentrcek Zebulon

New York, wentrcekzebulon.com Back in 2016, when they last appeared on our Hot List, they were called Wintercheck Factory, and had twice shown at our Offsite shows their sophisticated, at times Judd-like furniture made from utilitarian industrial materials. These days Kristin Wentrecek and Andrew Zebulon simply go by Wentrcek Zebulon, but their interest in elevating the unglamorous hasn’t flagged a bit, as evidenced by their solo show this year at Marta gallery in L.A., where they transformed cardboard-colored coated foam into furniture that was as intriguing to see as it was to touch. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? American design means being intuitive, and being too stubborn or dumb to know that something won’t work, or that it isn’t supposed to. That feels distinctly American — not listening when someone says it can’t be done. As a result, the road from the idea to the end result is generally pretty rocky, but we (usually) arrive at a place that’s probably better or more interesting than where we thought we were going to end up anyway. It’s unpredictable, and that’s exciting. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? For 2024, we’re focusing on: • Working in fiberglass. We’d like to produce a small set of fabricated fiberglass pieces, using this chair we showed in the spring as a jumping-off point. • Producing a new collection of sculptural lighting works. The light experiments we included in our recent show at Marta, No Life, got us really interested in the possibilities of work focused on lighting. • Trying out new ways of making and distributing our work. That means working faster, experimenting more, and creating more unique, one-of-one pieces. • Going big. We’d love to find the right partner(s) that we can work with on larger scale, more immersive environmental installations. What inspires or informs your work in general? Our work is inspired by: industrial rubble, concrete, trash, space travel, both Cronenbergs, bathhouses, old men commenting in dead forums online, radiation, locker rooms, Francis Bacon, old cars, new cars, sanitoriums, Larry Bell, Mark Bell, surveillance, chrome, monochrome, stainless steel, caves, bunkers, thick drapes, crime scenes, linoleum.
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Sunfish

New York, sunfish.nyc Julia Eshaghpour and Kevin Hollidge had worked together for more than a decade in a fine art practice called Tenet before they founded their furniture studio Sunfish in 2021 — and before we discovered that studio through an exhibition design they created for Sophie Lou Jacobsen this past spring. Whereas Tenet explores the fake materials often used in architecture and interiors, like marble-pattern laminates, Sunfish is all about craftsmanship and material integrity, from painted-wood folding screens to cast-bronze chairs. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? Someone once described to us that the greatest culture shock of coming to America from abroad was going to an American grocery store. With an abundance of products to choose from, one product in twenty different permutations, and all of them distinguished through packaging, advertising, boasts of health benefits, historic record, or technological innovation, brands in America are tasked with re-inventing a familiar good again and again. To a consumer, these choices can be overwhelming, but to a creator they’re exhilarating. American design falls into this tradition of insistence that something from the past can always be invented anew, with the right flourish, technique, and perhaps most importantly, narrative context. What we’ve gained from a culture of heavy consumerism is a firm belief in the power of narrative. As a young country, not tied so strongly to ancient craft traditions or a singular, unifying aesthetic, American design has become very skilled at inventing context. Some of the best American designers are remembered not for one famous chair or material employed, but for the world they invited people into. This world-building is something American designers are pre-disposed to do — it’s ingrained in our culture, from all the brands you see at the supermarket to all the movies that come out of Hollywood. Creating a life with and through your work is very motivating and exciting to us. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? Our foundations are in fine arts, and we’ve been making sculptural works as a somewhat separate practice from Sunfish. However, in our home, our furniture and artworks live together. Following in the footsteps of many architecturally minded sculptors, we have plans to bridge these practices more fully, presenting artworks and furniture pieces together that are researched from the same place. What inspires or informs your work in general? Our … Continue reading Sunfish
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Shaina Tabak

New York, shainatabak.com Woodworkers in Brooklyn — especially those who graduated from RISD — are a dime a dozen these days, but almost no one is approaching the craft with the kind of obsessive, experimental bent of Shaina Tabak. Mixing old-school artistry (marquetry, inlay) with digital milling techniques, Tabak’s works are immediately appealing in their look and feel but also dizzying, as you stare at them a bit longer, wondering how exactly they came to be and why she makes it look so easy. In one, a CNC-milled strip of wood takes on the appearance of a flattened plaid carpet runner; in another, a coffee table resembles a terracotta sponge but is in fact made from gouged Sapele wood (and draped with a carved wood fish carcass for good measure). Tabak recently wrapped up a solo exhibition at Superhouse gallery that catapulted her onto everyone’s watch list — and landed her firmly on this list.  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? I’m drawn to makers who digest the world around them through craft and form, more like a sculptor than anything. The main reason I chose to study furniture design in undergrad was the realization that people were using the furniture form to rebel against established ideals of craft, interior hierarchies, and conceptual approaches to function. The American design or object making that I’m interested in embodies this type of spirit and approach. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? I will be building on my sculpture practice and exploring my attachment to utility. After a year of laser focus on the body of work from my solo show in September, I’m beginning to intentionally explore and research again, externally and internally, while building on the ideas and questions that my last body of work sparked. I will be teaching CNC workshops at Pratt for the first time. I’m looking forward to everything I will learn in the process of teaching. I’ve gone to The Met every weekend since my show closed, so a lot more of that in the new year too. What inspires or informs your work in general?  I’m interested in flattening, readjusting perspectives, material associations. Even though my work is heavily informed by technology, I look for inspiration from ancient and historical techniques. Lately I’ve been going back to the intarsia inlaid walls of the Ducal Palace … Continue reading Shaina Tabak
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Zoë Mowat

New York, zoemowat.com If you’re wondering what took us so long to name Zoë Mowat to this list, it’s because technically, she only moved to America in 2020, having been born and raised in Canada and based in Montreal. But Mowat has already made her mark on the New York scene, not least with her Isle Collection for Lambert & Fils, which was our pick for the best launch of this year’s NYCxDesign. A lighted tube that rests gently atop solid bricks of aluminum or stone, it represents everything that’s great about Mowat’s approach to design: It’s an inevitable-seeming form — that somehow no one has attempted before — made even more lovely by its juxtaposition of materials and the interplay of color. If that wasn’t enough, Mowat recently launched a new hi-fi brand called Waves and Frequencies, whose first launch has already become designer-made speaker du jour in a year teeming with similar debuts.  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? I suppose as a Canadian I’ve long been an observer from the North, where much of our art and culture is so often defined in reference to the US — as a kind of mirror for what we are and what we’re not. I see the landscape as innovative, idiosyncratic, self-sufficient, and ever-changing, both in the design realm and more broadly. I feel happy to contribute to it. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? This year, I’ll be shifting my design lens to the audio world with the launch of Waves and Frequencies, a new hi-fi brand I’m starting with a dear old friend. It’s been many years in the making and our first output is a customizable speaker that sounds incredible. We’ve got a PA in development and plans for music-related furniture, accessories, and event programming. I will also be releasing a new furniture series for the Japanese brand, Ariake. I recently returned from a productive workshop at their factory in Saga prefecture, Japan, where I worked directly with the craftspeople alongside a handful of international designers. What inspires or informs your work in general?  I spent ten days traveling through Japan solo after the workshop so I’m sure what I saw will inform what comes next. That’s often how it works: I absorb (and archive) the odd or mundane things I see on the street, or the forms I … Continue reading Zoë Mowat
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Sam Klemick

Los Angeles, studiosamklemick.com A former fashion designer, Klemick transitioned to furniture two years ago after falling in love with wood-working and realizing she could use her new passion to address some of the more wasteful practices of her former industry. Many of Klemick’s works combine salvaged construction materials and deadstock or vintage textiles; her standout Bell chair, whose pillowy upholstery was inspired by Margiela’s famed 1999 Duvet coat, uses bleached lumber and factory seconds fabric, while her Quilted Side Table makes use of reclaimed Douglas fir. A newer body of work pairs fashion and furniture even more conceptually, with stools sporting giant carved ribbons. After showings in London, Milan, Miami, and a wonderfully sensitive recent joint exhibition with Canadian designer Jeff Martin for Objective Gallery, we’re excited to see where she goes next.  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? The first thought that came to mind was, I don’t know! I hope American design is something that can be inclusive and free of definition, allowing room for everyone to have their own point of view. Maybe American design is then individualistic? There are trends that ebb and flow, but at the same time I feel like at any moment, depending on what city you are in or what designer’s studio, you could see something you have never seen before. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? My first plan is to take a minute! The past year has been an incredible whirlwind. I was constantly producing new work, and I think this year I need to take a minute to pause and reflect a bit, but I also already have plans for my next large body of work, so we will see how much pausing I really do. I will also be part of Haworths second Design Lab, I’m super excited for this. The theme this year is sustainability, which ties in directly to my practice. I work with almost exclusively recycled materials, this is something very important to me. Haworth is opening their doors to us to utilize their resources for sustainable material exploration and research. Having never formally gone to school for this I am beyond pumped to have this opportunity to learn from their team and specifically Patricia Urquiola who heads the design lab. Potentially there is also a fashion collaboration in my future that I’m trying to put … Continue reading Sam Klemick
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Reath Design

Los Angeles, reathdesign.com Nobody does wallpaper — and its associated color- and pattern-mixing — quite like Frances Merrill of Reath Design. Would you like a custom sofa upholstered in seven different shades of chenille? How about a living room featuring four different florals? Or a kitchen with lavender cabinets, checkerboard floors, cabana-stripe skirting, and a terracotta stove? Somehow, in Merrill’s hands, it all works.  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? What I love about American design is similar to why I love working in LA. With the history of Hollywood, there is such a sense of possibility, in that you can really create anything you want from scratch, and there are fewer rules. The architecture is so eclectic, which also allows for experimentation, and an opportunity to pick and choose references in a fun, casual way. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? We have been slowly settling into our new studio space, which has been a fun and collaborative project. I also moved into a new house this year, so will spend the next many years transforming it. What inspires or informs your work in general?   I find I am most inspired by an interesting house and an interesting person, and trying to figure out how they go together, and how the design can inform their lives. I also love to support designers, artists and artisans who are making interesting, unusual things, and finding ways to incorporate their work into our work. And I am continually inspired by old craft traditions that I get to rediscover, and re-introduce into people’s homes, and lives.
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Piscina

New York, piscinapiscina.com Piscina is the wide-ranging project of Natalie Shook, a Cuban-American artist who originally came to New York to study painting but soon discovered her love for carpentry and furniture-making. Shook runs a studio and storefront out of Red Hook in Brooklyn, where she works alongside and showcases the talents of her wood-working, ceramic-firing, and metal-smithing friends. At last year’s ICFF, she won Best New Designer and Best in Show on the merits of a ceramic side table and a modular shelving unit built around a grooved spine. But to our mind, her most interesting work to date is a collection of ceramic and wood sconces, whose decorative wood tenons can be daisy-chained to form an endlessly inventive wall-mounted unit.  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? Thinking about what defines the American design community — and specifically our practice — the word accessibility comes to mind. In our outer orbit, there’s all of NYC, which gives us access to some of the greatest art, design, and talent in the world. Focusing in, I consider what it means to have our studio in Brooklyn, where we have access to almost any material or service, at almost any time, delivered to our doorstep. Piscina occupies half of a 10,000 sq.ft. building, and my husband runs his architecture practice, Camber Studio, out of the other half. I share Piscina’s studio with quite a few other artists and designers, so we’re fortunate to have access to a community of exceptionally talented individuals who I also happen to love working alongside. We built a caretaker apartment in the back where we live with our two kids and easily transition between studio life and home life. To me, the duality of this experience feels a little wild west and very uniquely American, with accessibility as a strong defining quality. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? We have a small showroom directly around the corner from our studio, and I’ve been working on curating a few shows for this coming spring. I’m looking forward to working closely with the artists on those exhibitions and working on some collaborations for Piscina as well. We’ll be getting our e-commerce site up and running in the early part of next year, so my work and the work of the 20 or so other artists we work with will … Continue reading Piscina
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The Perfect Nothing Catalog

Los Angeles, @theperfectnothingcatalog We first featured Frank Traynor of The Perfect Nothing Catalog almost exactly a decade ago, when he was selling commissioned works by Chen & Kai, Jessica Hans, Cody Hoyt, and more from a shack installed on a subway platform in Williamsburg — already a master of the high/low. His latest project, an exhibition at The Future Perfect called Can Opener of Myself — presumably a Whitman reference — features found objects like flashlights, trash cans, pizza wheels, switch plates, cherry pitters, tongs, and napkin dispensers, all of which have been plated in tin and encrusted with shells or jewels, turning each item into an intoxicating, joy-inducing object. It’s perhaps the most unlikely project to make this list, but what else is the point of design than to make the everyday extraordinary? What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? Other than drone bombs and robotic military dogs, I want to think about the Shakers and Sacred Harp and Prairie School and the hippies and our “folk” arts and craftspeople. I’m always rooting for the people figuring out how to live close to nature and how to offer beautiful things to each other — the kelp weavers and mud silkscreeners and coral castle builders and basement eel-pit keepers. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? It’s really not in my nature to plan too far ahead. I’m looking forward to spending the winter in LA, letting work and projects and ideas unfold as they go. I want to try to get in to glassblowing, and I want to try to get on The Price is Right. What inspires or informs your work in general?  Thrift stores and hardware stores and dollar stores and restaurant supply stores and rock collectors and shell collectors; the Met’s American Wing visible storage; Johnathan Katz’s cabinet at The People’s Store in Lambertville, New Jersey; the worlds of ideas of Sid and Marty Krofft and William Morris and Lloyd Kahn.
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Natalie Weinberger

New York, natalieweinberger.com As much as we love tableware and vessels, we remember how excited we were when Weinberger first began making ceramic lamps back in 2017 — one of which, an all-terracotta beauty, we put on the cover of our book — and then tiled tables, with Giancarlo Valle, two years later. She’s since expanded her practice into the realm of glass, both blown by her collaborator Kenny Pieper and cast herself in the same kilns she fires her ceramics in, the latter for a series of sconces with Jacqueline Sullivan Gallery that we’re hoping to see more of in 2024. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? American design at this moment feels very open and expansive. There seems to be both a market and an audience for every expression and every style, especially for designers with an emphasis on experimentation and innovation. The growing appreciation for craft has been a true joy to witness in my own past decade in this line of work, and it’s exciting to think of all the new talents that will be rising up in the coming years. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? 2024 is all about wrapping big projects that have been in progress for the better part of a year: a number of new tiled coffee tables, a series of new cast glass wall lighting, my biggest dinnerware commission to date, and an expansion of my glassware line made with glassblower Kenny Pieper. I’ll also be continuing my design work for CB2 dreaming up new dinnerware, barware, and stemware collections. What inspires or informs your work in general? Lately I’ve been inspired by the simple notion of “beautiful comfort.” Comfort can take on many forms. There’s visual comfort — that certain harmony of proportions, materials, shape, and texture that can quickly put your nerves at ease. And there’s of course physical comfort: how an object fits into your hand, your home, and your life at large — its ease of use. And lastly there’s sentimental comfort: the familiarity of a traditional shape, an object used and worn over time, or something intriguing that piques your curiosity. I’m currently traveling in Sri Lanka where I’ve been visiting various properties designed by the late architect Geoffrey Bawa, who was a clear master of incorporating comfort into his spaces at every level. That … Continue reading Natalie Weinberger
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Monica Curiel

Denver, monicacuriel.art This may be the American Design Hot List, but our nomination of Curiel arose just as much from her functional objects, which we first spotted in Milan last year, as it did from the monochrome draped-plaster artworks we fell for in the collection of South Loop Loft — before we even realized, with delight, that they were made by the same person. Curiel’s practice is based around elevating simple materials like plaster, house paint, and grouting tools in part as an homage to her parents, who immigrated to Texas from Mexico and took her along as a child while they cleaned homes and worked on construction sites. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? As a Mexican-American, I still believe in the American Dream — it fuels me, and I find a lot of hope in it. To me, American design reflects a unique fusion of dualities and embodies individualism. You can be a designer anywhere, but the opportunity to build something regardless of your background is unique here. This excites me because it removes creative boundaries and makes it possible to dedicate a career path to refining one’s creative vision. It grants me the freedom to celebrate both of my cultures while using my work as a vehicle to dive into diverse material and conceptual explorations. And as a woman, I’m excited to witness (and be a part of!) the more inclusive chapter of American design that’s being written. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? A big goal of mine for this year is to continue exploring how my art and design practices intersect and prioritizing studio time and exhibition opportunities. I’m looking forward to a five-week residency at Anderson Ranch in the spring, where I’ll expand my work with plaster and integrate other mediums as well. I’m also collaborating with Boyd Lighting, a company with a 102-year legacy, to unveil a collection of lighting set to launch in late 2024. While I can’t reveal too much about that work yet, I can confirm that plaster is very much involved. What inspires or informs your work in general? My culture is my driving force and a constant source of inspiration. I visit Mexico annually to connect with my family and observe the familiar in new ways. Mundane structures like the “lavadero” (an outdoor sink made of stone or … Continue reading Monica Curiel
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Mark Grattan

New York, markgrattan.com We first named Grattan to our Hot List back in 2018, when he was helping lead the studio VIDIVIXI in Mexico City. Since then, much has changed: he went solo, appeared in our book, moved back to New York, won Ellen’s Design Challenge, began working with Cristina Grajales gallery and Solange, and recently, nabbed the cover of Elle Decor with an interior he designed for Megan Rapinoe. Which is to say, he’s had a big two years, enough to demand a revisit — and an acknowledgement of his successes under his own name. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? That’s a tough question. For a country that hates me so much, I’m amazed at how far I’ve gotten. If and when I get to the top, I’m excited to blast this shit wide open. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? I need to get to know myself next year (for the first time?). I turn 40 at the end of this year. 2023 pushed me into corners I had no business being in. I was in places I thought I needed to be, but they turned out to be the wrong places. I learned a lot this year and wasted a lot of money doing it. The world I’m creating and have wanted for so long isn’t slowing down; I can see it behind me haunting me, ha. How do I find peace in the superficial necessity of it all? What I do creatively is fulfilling, but those things on the other side deserve scrutiny. My dreams at night are telling me I need to start giving back and how to do that has been the big question for me lately. What inspires or informs your work in general? I’ve been inhaling MDF dust for months, and painting it super glossy. High-gloss piano lacquer has been an internal trend for my practice. New pieces and old pieces are now taking on candy-like finishes. (Look for a huge oversized Hermanx in high-gloss cafe con leche). It’s not very common for my body of work, but I’ve been very satisfied. It’s a different type of retro glamour, and pairing the durable finish with metal finishes like polished stainless steel help keep my demons happy. I’ve made (another) sick bed for my apartment in Brooklyn in high-gloss black lacquer and … Continue reading Mark Grattan
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Luke Malaney

New York, lukemalaney.com We first met Brooklyn woodworker Luke Malaney when we adopted his wavy hand-carved nightstand into our Collection, but this year he made his practice a little more interesting with the addition of hammered, patinated, torched, and waxed copper elements to his pieces, alongside his use of organic forms, paints, and dyes. We love a solo woodworker and Malaney — who studied traditional techniques with an old-school artisan in Rome — has the skills, but we do appreciate a twist on the genre. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? It’s up in the air, really — a pretty vast spectrum. Technology has been on my mind lately when thinking of American design. Trying to understand what these new robotic ways of designing mean for my work, if anything. I don’t own a computer and I’m comfortable with that. I enjoy making my pieces from start to finish by hand, with old and modern machinery and hand tools. And learning how these materials react with the tools and machines, which took a long time. I enjoy mistakes and imperfections; sometimes mistakes turn into the design, sometimes the wood wants to do something else. Maybe that’s why some of these robotics make me feel a lack of intimacy with materials. A lack of connection with the work being created. But no matter the approach, the common thread remains. There are no real rules. You can hop on a cruise ship or kayak down a river, but it’s really about navigating the same body of water together, no matter the vessel. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? I have some exciting commissions in the works. I’m looking forward to continued exploration into the materials I’m working with and seeing what doors they open, and close. I’d like to do some residencies this year — the idea of getting out of New York to make some new work in a different setting sounds refreshing. A couch, too. I definitely want to make a couch this year. What inspires or informs your work in general? Every time I go back to my mom’s house I get inspired. She’s always up to something — an artist in her own right, eclectic, has a good eye, and has a way of making the ridiculous work. I remember coming home as a kid one day and … Continue reading Luke Malaney
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