American Design Hot List 2017
Chen Chen & Kai Williams
Perhaps no young American design studio reinvents themselves as much and as often as Chen Chen & Kai Williams, who continue to reveal new depths to their aesthetic thanks to constant material innovations. We love their new tables, mirrors, and more, which explore the idea of UV-bonded glass and stone.
What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
The main difference is that in America, a lot of designers also run small-scale mass-manufacturing businesses. That means a lot of new products aren’t just being designed but they’re also being put into production. While that causes things to be more practical for a broader market, it also means there’s no one to convince to produce something. There is no filter between the designer and the wider market.
What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
We have been working on revamping our entire small product line. They’re all machined metal pieces, and when we decided to go this route, we were having a hard time relating it to the focus on mixed materiality that our studio is known for. Our solution was to make everything with stainless steel and brass. Stainless steel is cold and unchanging in appearance where as brass is warm and will age with a unique patina from your touch. Showing the dichotomy in the metal properties allows you to see each material more clearly. We have a few objects we launched this fall and we’re looking to add more in February.
We’re also working on new pieces with UV-bonded glass and stone, a process we used for our new Floating Rock tables at The Primary Essentials. There are also a few projects we’re working on for some manufacturers that we’re excited about, but we’ll have to wait to talk about those.
What inspires or informs your work in general?
We’ve made a lot of work based on using materials for things that those materials weren’t meant for. What inspires us are the everyday solutions people invent using what they have rather than what is proper. For example, a neighbor recently made plywood trash can lids that have a door knob as a handle (probably because the factory made plastic ones that were too light and blew away). Wikipedia has lead to countless ideas.
A good link to our brains is what’s in our eBay cart. Here are a few: