Sarah Burns

New York, sarah-burns.com We first discovered the work of Sarah Burns through her hardware designs, and then through Old Jewelry, the store she both runs and designs for that’s right next door to Superhouse gallery in Chinatown. She also creates furniture, objects, interiors, and murals — all with the same downtown-cool aesthetic. We love a multi-talented creative working across mediums, and have no doubt that when Burns drops her first official furniture collection, by way of a solo show at Marta in L.A. this spring, we’re going to covet every piece. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? I guess I’m not sure what American design is today, or I don’t really think about what it is, at least. Everything is intersecting now. In general things are less regional and more global, and the arts reflect that, making the question a difficult one. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?  I’ll be completing my first solid-silver jewelry collection for Old Jewelry (which will be released and available at the Old Jewelry Store in Chinatown, NYC). The collection includes two rings, a pin, a pair of earrings, a bracelet, and a necklace. I also have a solo exhibition at Marta in L.A. in the spring. It will be my first design exhibition, as I’ve mainly contributed to group shows and done custom work for private clients. Marta is one of my favorite galleries, and I’ve really enjoyed working with them. I feel very lucky. What inspires or informs your work in general?  I like art and historical design, and I’m inspired by my peers working now. But I’m also inspired by the more understated qualities of vernacular furniture and architecture, the different kinds of ambition. The beauty of these more everyday objects feels like the byproduct of the maker’s personal interests as well as their limitations, whether financial or material, skill or time. The furniture I design isn’t meant to be broadly impressive, but to function specifically and earnestly.  It often ends up blending in with its surroundings, intentionally, and hopefully there’s a gesture or two in each piece that elicits something more emotional. I try to employ a light touch and work with what Fischli & Weiss would call a ‘casual precision.’
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Luam Melake

New York, luammelake.com When we first covered Luam Melake’s wall hangings back in 2021 — which often incorporate unconventional materials such as metal, cement, asphalt, plastics, rubber, and personal mementoes — we had no idea the extent to which we would fall for her burgeoning furniture practice. Zesty Meyers and Evan Snyderman of R & Company were paying better attention than us, it seems, and would soon bring the artist and designer into shows like their Objects USA revival, and, next week, a solo exhibition devoted to Melake’s experimental, brightly colored, humanist chairs. The chairs, for which Melake shapes upholstery foam into geometric shapes and then coats them with layers of pigmented urethane, are psychological in nature. As she says, they “organize bodies in ways that make room for intimacy, eye contact and direct acknowledgment of others — furniture that encourages social and emotional engagement.”  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? The American values of individualism, innovation, and freedom of expression feel like the most apparent elements in contemporary American design right now. Innovation is happening at a smaller production scale than ever, which makes becoming a designer a more accessible proposition than ever before. Anyone with a strong point of view who knows how to make things could potentially produce and sell design objects — free of the enormous constraints imposed by large-scale production. This has steered design closer to art since individual expression and technique are so highly valued now. The proliferation of individual craftsmen and artists creating functional objects has made space for such a diversity of perspectives and approaches to making. This is extremely exciting and makes this a fascinating and rich era in American design. On the other hand, I also find myself nostalgic for post-war American design, when good design was innovative and individualistic while also being affordable, highly functional, and lasting. It would be great to also see mass-produced design in America proliferate using the abundant talent in this country to bring this experimental moment in design to the masses in a sustainable way. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? I am super excited about my first solo show with R & Company which is opening on Feb 3rd! The show is titled “Furnishing Feelings” and will feature new, highly functional furniture works that offer the user multiple bodily positions designed to improve social interaction and psychological health. … Continue reading Luam Melake
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Ohla Studio

Los Angeles and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, ohlastudio.com Giulia Zink and Mat Trumbull of Ohla have one foot in Los Angeles and the other in Mexico, but it’s the latter that informed their first foray into furniture design, which debuted last year. In the city center of San Miguel de Allende, they created Sin Nombre, a residence and gallery, and filled it with their Alocer collection: slab-like travertine tables that reference early stone carvings, scalloped cast-aluminum chairs, copper lights, and more. Their gingko-esque lights and cast-aluminum coffee tables, with etched patterns resembling the moon’s surface, are the standout pieces in a collection full of knockouts. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? American landscape paintings of the Hudson River School painters caused a stir of excitement in Europe in the mid-19th century. At the time there was a European perception about the Americas: lacking in culture, tradition, taste, etc. However, these paintings were expressing what the Americas did have: opportunity, adventure, discovery, vast rugged spaces framing the sublime.  And we can relate to that. I think our metaphor is very similar. We are fortunate to use formal tools and training to interpret and mimic these vast rugged idea-scapes — trying our very best to transmit something poetic and frame something sublime. An example is our upcoming exhibit. While driving through central Mexico we stumbled upon a lonely desert truck stop in a hilly landscape studded with gigantic candelabra organ cactus. The proprietor is this jack-of-all-trades outsider artist, and he had crafted all of the restaurants’ furnishings by re-purposing the trash that had been discarded by passing truck drivers. And they were these rugged, extraordinary, and beautifully proportioned pieces — stools, chairs, and tables. Fast forward: We’ve been invited to participate at a gallery show at UNAM during Zona Maco (Mexico’s most notable university and Mexicos most notable art-fair). Ohla Studio is re-producing the truckstop “stool” design, working with three Mexican artisans in three distinct Mexican materials. We’re just connecting the dots, trying to accentuate and amplify the purity of the design and the narrative. Trying to call attention to what is otherwise overlooked, forgotten. Our goal is to celebrate the design, the designer, the maker, the material, the university, the event, the desert truck stop, the city…. The Americas… What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?  This is an exciting time for us, and … Continue reading Ohla Studio
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Muhly

Austin, muhly.studio The designs we cover on Sight Unseen can get pretty wild and colorful from time to time, but that doesn’t mean we love simple works any less — especially when they’re designed by two women (like us) who are #tinyballs enthusiasts (like us). Muhly is the collaborative studio of Ann Edgerton and Megan Carney, who, from their Austin, Texas, workshop, make nightstands, tables, benches, and firepits out of single materials like wood, plywood, or steel, with little adornment other than a curve here or a ball or cutout there. The results are eminently liveable, and just interesting enough to be covetable. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? American design feels both vast and personal. It’s innovative, it tries to solve problems, and it makes life more beautiful. There’s freedom in the fact that American design is a relatively young practice. We’re energized by the newness of the conversation and by the evolving interpretations of experiences and ideas. As two women, we believe the field is strengthened by the continued expansion of perspectives represented in the work. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?  While moving beyond our first collection, we worked to incorporate our core motifs into new contexts and materials, including metals and colors. We found that expanding our material library also expanded the types of pieces we want to design. Our goal has always been to make furniture and objects that make life more interesting, and we’re enjoying the process of designing pieces with a more singular function. In addition to tables and stools, we’ll be releasing lighting, a fire pit, andirons, a box to place your phone in, and other objects that we hope will fill gaps in the designed life. There’s so much in the world designed to distract us from the present moment, and we’re interested in doing the opposite. What inspires or informs your work in general?  We met almost 20 years ago at a summer camp in the Texas hill country. Much of the inspiration for MUHLY comes from revisiting the aesthetics and heirlooms of our childhood. We formally started collaborating in 2020, but we’ve always had an ongoing dialogue about regional design. We’re both drawn to the humorous, absurd, and kitsch elements that are so pervasive in the attempt to be nostalgic. We grew up with a lot of leather, nailheads, … Continue reading Muhly
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Lesser Miracle

New York, lessermiracle.com For Vince Patti and Mischa Langley of Lesser Miracle, designing is not simply about making furniture — it’s about world-building. This makes sense, considering their name derives from a spell cast in Dungeons & Dragons, and that their first collection developed after the gallerist David Lewis asked the duo to create a show of fantasy furniture. That debut included a throne-like stool and a daybed whose calligraphic pattern recalls the Alhambra in Spain; as Patti put it when we interviewed the pair last summer, “Creating your own world that doesn’t feel like a thing that you saw in a design magazine, that you were prescribed to like or be into or told was cool or was the thing of the moment, has always been very attractive to me. So for us, this collection was about really digging deep into a world of our own creation.” What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? We would say Mu: unask the question. We do not believe a unifying trait of American design exists for us to identify. At least we aren’t thinking about it if there is one. This practice is primarily about constructing a fantasy world, and the construction of a fantasy world as a withdrawal from reality. It is in many ways definitionally motivated by an intentional unawareness of its material setting. When I (Mischa) imagined I was fighting orcs on the parapets of Gondor at seven years old, I didn’t wonder if the stick I was using as a sword had the right ratio of pommel to hilt. When we design a daybed for a sorcerer prince, it’s not in dialogue with a world that has Loewe candles. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?  The continuing project of Lesser Miracle is to expand beyond furniture, design, and art into a much more all encompassing program of world-building. Taking a set of values, expressed in aesthetic principles and applying them to music, performance, architecture, community, and infrastructure to create a world wholly new. This year we’re excited to bring this vision into new forms with the help of a wider group of collaborators. What inspires or informs your work in general?  Mayan architecture, Brutalism, revenge, classic fantasy, rave culture, American folk art, evangelical Christianity, grief, our beautiful and talented friends, applied math, “fiddling while Rome burns.” Those are the big ones right … Continue reading Lesser Miracle
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L.A. Door

Los Angeles, ladoor.com The experimental furniture lab of Katie Payne and Doug McCollough, L.A. Door started in 2019 as a studio making actual doors: laminate and plywood versions with custom wood or resin handles and a vaguely postmodern vibe. The duo’s next release, a hilariously hip take on a La-Z-Boy recliner, got people paying attention, but the project’s longevity, and its continued release of weirdly beautiful send-ups — like a trompe l’oeil pinewood mirror and a sanctioned redux of Garry Knox Bennett’s Great Granny Rietveld chair — have given it real impact in the L.A. design scene. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? Every American designer has their own ‘America’ — often more than one — to draw from. We’ve come to appreciate how values regarding design often reflect class and geography in the US. La-Z-Boy recliners inspired our L.A. Lazy lounge chair and are a perfect example. Over the last 96 years, La-Z-Boy recliners have become ubiquitous in America because they’re comfortable and durable. Last year, La-Z-Boy, a Flint, Michigan-based company, achieved $2.4B in sales. Bob Villa recently rated La-Z-Boy as the #1 choice in his Top 11 American-Made Furniture Brands of 2023. So a very large number, perhaps even a majority of Americans, value La-Z-Boy furniture as an important home fixture — a tool of rest and recovery for everyday life. However, within more elite design circles, the La-Z-Boy is ignored or dismissed. The brand (and its competitors) have brought in individuals like Todd Oldham to attempt redesigns in order to appeal to so-called elevated tastes, but they always fail. The design and its values seem to be inherently inelegant and unsophisticated, at least superficially. Instead of resisting its corpulent form, our L.A. Lazy recliner celebrates it without irony. With it, we’re taking a Midwestern mass-produced product (not to mention a fraught icon) and making it bespoke in Los Angeles — not in order to elevate it, but to appreciate it and open a discussion about American life. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? Making money, paying our taxes, and driving our work van in Los Angeles traffic; continuing to design and make in the way that we do; and exploring more faux bois techniques with our collaborator and friend, the painter Daniel Payavis. We’re also working towards an upcoming 2024 show with Marta Gallery. We’re looking forward … Continue reading L.A. Door
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Jialun Xiong

Los Angeles, jialunxiong.com Before catching our eye with her sheet-steel furniture in the This is America show at Alcova in Milan last June, Xiong studied design and architecture at ArtCenter in L.A., then joined a large firm and worked on high-rise residential buildings not unlike the ones she grew up around in her native Chongqing, China. You can see some of those influences in the solo furniture and interiors studio she launched in 2021, where everything is hyper minimalist, monochrome, and metal — and yet with subtle elements of softness that make you want to live in and amongst them. We weren’t able to share her newest interior projects here just yet, but trust us, they’re impressive. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? There’s never just one image that goes through my mind when I hear “American design.” It could be the Modernist movement of 1920-1950, the Pop Art and design cultures, individual expression, and freeform. It could also be contradictory or inclusive, since I’ve always felt the tug between the different cultures even when I came to the States for my education and professional practice. For these reasons, there’s a lot of room for creators to share their own visions and understandings through design. It’s unnecessary to actually have a word to describe the work itself. At the end of day, my pieces and projects are just the decisions and insights from part of me. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? We almost completed two restaurant interiors (19 Town and Sichuan Impression) in the past year, and those will finally be ready to launch in the coming month. And we’re full speed ahead working on new pieces for the upcoming ICFF + Wanted Design event, where we’ll officially meet professionals as a studio for the first time. I only showed at the fair once, with my first collection, Black Kaleidoscope, when I was a grad student back in 2018. What inspires or informs your work in general? Having studied interior architecture and furniture design, I intended to artfully balance positive and negative space, always considering the relationship between objects and spatial volumes. Inspired by the mountainous landscape and high-rise architecture of my hometown in Chongqing, as well as the functional minimalism of the International Style of architecture, I want to create spatial environments and furnishings with an abstract geometric bent … Continue reading Jialun Xiong
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In Common With

New York, incommonwith.com Since In Common With made our Hot List back in 2018, some things have not changed, like the fact that founders Felicia Hung and Nick Ozemba still make modular, customizable light fixtures in partnership with glassblowers, ceramicists, and metalsmiths that often emphasize the textures of handicraft. What has changed is their roster, which since grew to encompass two incredible ceramic lighting collaborations with Danny Kaplan, in 2020 and 2022, and a floral-inspired glass fixture collection developed with Sophie Lou Jacobsen that, when it launched last year, blew minds everywhere. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? American design is ever-evolving. It doesn’t have a defined aesthetic; it has an attitude, energy, and heart. It’s autonomous and ambitious. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? We’re finishing the final construction phase for our Gowanus studio, adding another 1,000 square feet of space and growing our team. On the design side of things, we’ll be releasing new product lines in the spring and fall, ranging from outdoor lighting, workplace, and our first line of furniture. What inspires or informs your work in general? Materials and production techniques. The history of interior, furniture, and lighting design. Collaboration. Kindness. Problem solving. PHOTOS BY WILLIAM JESS LAIRD, CLEMENT PASCAL, AND MAX BURKHALTER
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Ian Collings

Ojai, California, iancollings.com As one-half of the Brooklyn-based duo Fort Standard, Collings appeared on our list once before, way back in 2013. But five years ago, Collings left the practice he had helped found in order to take a three-year hiatus, spending time with his family and finding inspiration in the wilds of Central America. When he emerged in late 2020, it was with a full-fledged sculpture practice, a flurry of solo shows with The Future Perfect, and a new visual vocabulary that puts a primacy on natural materials and the ways in which they want to be in the world. He can’t rid himself entirely of utility, though, and one of our favorite pieces in his collection is a basalt coffee table that looks like as though it’s been slicked with a sheen of tar.  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? What is exciting to me about American Design feels revealed in this question. There is a largely accepted attitude to maintain a state of flux and exploration. To move in a direction of discovery and rediscovery. Leaving definition (or non definition) up to whoever’s doing the activity. At this point in my life, American design, art, and pretty much everything else are, for me, about interacting with vast spaces — those both physical and metaphysical. I’m interested in experiences that offer higher levels of aliveness. And as much as I allow myself, I want to make objects that feel like rolling around in the mud in a dark cave then running out naked, excited, into the river. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? Considering I’m still trying to answer that question for the last three years, and that my plans hardly go as planned anyway, the one constant is the work. I’m engaged in doing the work and in that sense, I’m making new work for a couple of new shows and collections and some secret, exciting commissions for large-scale sculptures. But mostly I’m working to move deeper in the direction I’ve been building into for the last few years. To see if I can break out the other side. In that way, I’m feeling into new materials, spaces, and places. But for the moment I’m very excited about our Californian-winter vegetable garden, rain, and our hopes to return to the Costa Rican jungle sometime soon. What inspires or informs your … Continue reading Ian Collings
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Gregory Beson

New York, gregorybeson.com Beson first caught our eye at a Fernando Mastrangelo–curated exhibition in 2019, where he debuted a Scarpa-inspired chair made entirely from bricks of rock salt. What could have been a gimmick in someone else’s hands took on an air of utter inevitability and elegance in Beson’s. Since then, the New England–born former musician and apprentice woodworker has continued to impress us, most recently at a solo exhibition at Love House in New York, where he debuted, among other things, a yin-yang–esque tri-toned coffee table, made from interlocking pieces of white and fumed red oak and inset with mahogany legs.  What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? It seems to me American design is derived from the proposed ideals of the country itself. American designers bring varied perspectives, experiences, histories and philosophies to the field due to their own lineage, identity, and ethnography. For example, much of my sensibility seems to come from my New England upbringing. This manifests itself through my connection to and affinity for the ocean, work ethic, and my interest and exploration of craft knowledge and material intelligence. I’m salty, but also sweet, and these qualities continue to reveal themselves in my work. This is what I find most exciting about any field, group, club, community or clique: the weaving together of each individual into the whole. The overlapping of perspective, feeling or opinion, the disagreement, the empathy, and ultimately the sharing of knowledge and perspective. I might not agree with or like all I see in the field of American design, but I’m glad to experience it, thankful for the discussion via work or otherwise, and strive to respond with my own pieces — adding to and hopefully expanding the conversation in our community. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?  This year promises many new opportunities to share work and collaborate with people I care about and admire greatly. A gallery show at Verso showroom in Tribeca this summer will include a number of varied furniture typologies which highlight beautiful foreign species of timber. A collection of outdoor furniture for a dear private client to suit their wonderful home and convivial family. A collaboration with a thoughtful fashion designer friend on the wine bar at their inn in Maine. A conceptual chair project I’m developing and will plan to exhibit by the year’s end. My work as an educator … Continue reading Gregory Beson
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Ginger Gordon

New York, gingergordon.com It’s not often we christen a Hot List nominee so soon after they graduate — from RISD’s class of ’22, in this case — but Gordon’s strong aesthetic shined through in the room dividers, tables, and stools she showed at last year’s Milan fair and New York design week, so we felt confident calling it early. We’re looking forward to seeing where she takes her sculptural wood forms, stained glass accents, and Surrealist influences. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? American design runs in every direction. It’s hopeful; it tells stories. There’s a respect for craft but a determination to create something new and to break from what is tired and known. I admire the constant push of material exploration and the unexpected ways in which materials are brought together in American design. These explorations are creating new stories, ones we haven’t seen, and that makes me continuously excited to see what will emerge. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? I’m currently developing my first studio collection, alongside Alexis Tingey. We met each other in school and lived in the metal shop together. We were struck by each other’s work and our shared sources of inspiration. On our last day of class, we decided to open a studio together. This collection is being developed through an artists’ residency at Colony. Our initial pieces for this series will be completed and shown later this year, for our first studio show. These objects look to push the material and form explorations we’ve independently been working on, from carved wooden forms to textured textiles to inlay to stained glass to stack lamination. The pieces hinge on contrast in materiality, strength, and weight. What inspires or informs your work in general? Compositions of line and form often inform my work. I usually sketch with paper and collage, then go straight into material, carving and cutting to reveal interconnected shapes or undulating forms. I admire intricate processes of making, especially handcraft traditionally associated with female makers, like lace-making and embroidery. The intricately woven and knotted forms of lace create patterns that inspire the shapes in my work. I find inspiration in objects that tell stories; the details that draw you in and reveal something unexpected, like a small gilded piece of inlay or an object with an unexpected movement or perspective. All objects … Continue reading Ginger Gordon
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Episode

New York, episode.nyc If you visit the website of Episode, a ceramic lighting brand designed and created by Jesse Shaw, you might not understand what the fuss is about — his core production collection comprises simple lamps in solid-colored shapes with textile shades, no big deal. But where Shaw really shines is in his specialty work with clients and collaborators, which lives over on his Instagram: limited-edition sculptural lamps designed with Friends of Form and Post Company, espresso cups and color-blocked butter holders, or the series of painterly table lamps that introduced us to his work in the first place. It’s genuinely exciting to see what he’ll post next. What is American design to you, and what excites you about it? American design is kind of a free-for-all, in a good way. The mix of cultures that we are lends people the chance to appreciate whatever style or era they want. Living and working in New York City can be a bubble at times, so disconnected from other parts of the country, while also being one of the most diverse connected places in the world. This is inspiring — to live in such a global city — but it’s still only one of the many versions of this country and the design world in it. I didn’t finish school and spent the last eight years exploring who and what I’m drawn to and why. In that time, and from this one place, I’ve been able to work on a range of different projects all over the country, in all types of spaces, from the rural west to beach towns to mountain homes. Maybe that spectrum of opportunity is what American design is. What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year? I recently released some new collaborations with a few designers and also have a hotel project that I’m in the middle of. I’m most looking forward to working on a new group of pieces that involve lighting, but aren’t quite lamps: sculptures that are connected by light that play with the negative space between them. I’ve yet to have a solo show, but am happy to have waited to let my work develop to where it is. I’m hoping to soon have the opportunity to install a spread of work built specifically for a space, and to explore the use of the environment they’re displayed in. What inspires or … Continue reading Episode
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