Caroline Chao

New York,
With a Masters in architecture from Harvard in hand, Chao began her working life at large firms that built skyscrapers. But once she moved to New York last year, she scaled down to smaller, more personal level and began a furniture practice, launching with two collections in lucite, glass, mirror, and upholstery that experiment with light and perspective. Her works reflect our favorite qualities: they’re simple and understated, but always with a subtly unique form or approach that makes them covetable at the same time.

What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?

The first word that comes to mind is multitudes. In many ways, American design feels free and unconstrained, and there isn’t necessarily any one dominant theme. There’s a celebration of diversity and novelty, and I see that in my own work too. My identity is caught between realms and cultures. I also operate between the disciplines of furniture, interior space, and architecture. The result feels like a freedom of expression between scales and disciplines, cultures and worlds.

What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?

I’ll be launching several new pieces in the spring, furthering my explorations of light and optics first presented in the View Collection (last two photos above). I’m very excited about following this thread and continuing to develop concepts in reflection, light, and spatial awareness through objects. I’m also working on an exciting collaboration for Milan Design Week in 2024, which I hope to share more about soon. Lastly, a couple interior projects I’ve been working on for several years are close to completion, which I’m thrilled about.

What inspires or informs your work in general?

I have many influences, among them psychology and perception, light and optics, and Surrealism. For my most recent launch, the View Collection, the primary interest was light and optical perception. I’ve always been drawn to the effects of light and space on how we perceive our surroundings. This sparked an interest in spatial perception. Architectural ideas of views, light, and space are perhaps less commonly discussed in furniture, but are very present themes in my pieces.

The most powerful element of design is its affect, which sometimes has an immediate impact, but for the best pieces the affect becomes richer and clearer as you live with them. Works like the I-Beam Light, Coffee & Tea Tables, and Orb Mirror are intended to be incredibly receptive to their environments. While we may not notice it, every hour the light quality changes in a room, and the pieces will dynamically react to this through reflections or tonal color shifts.

I think we’re not accustomed to living with objects that are reactive, that change with us daily. As our homes and buildings have progressed with technology and increased thermal comfort, they’ve also become more controlled and protective from the elements. But as a result, interiors can sometimes feel a bit static or closed, which in turn means that we need more time to escape into the sun, nature, and wilderness. Right now I’m quite interested in creating objects and spaces that draw from the natural environment to help us connect more to our senses and bodies.