Above, from left: Poppy enamel glass globe by Sarah Burns and Pinch porcelain cups by Bradley Bowers
We wanted to cover the minds behind the decorative work that makes a great interior. Craftsmanship, often dismissed in the design world as a lesser art form, is enjoying a renaissance. Skill and manual labor have always had their value, but the stories of those who use these skills are often overlooked. The five artists we feel exemplify this new wave of American craftsmanship—an embroiderer, carpenter, ceramist, lighting designer, and papier-mâché magician—bring a fresh, youthful perspective to age-old materials and techniques, reminding us that any interior is only as good as its details.
“Clay is really intuitive. If you can think of something you want to do, you can create it. So said Ellen Pongthe artist whose ceramic furniture has been featured in galleries such as Superhouse in New York and Marta in Los Angeles.
She grew up near Seattle, studied art history at the University of California, Berkeley, and now works in a shared studio in Queens, New York, where she creates unusual ceramic pieces, including lamps, chairs and containers, which combine function with an irreverent sensibility. Each design is formed through a hand-built process, sometimes over several weeks.
Although decidedly contemporary, Pong’s work draws on a wide range of historical influences. “I saw pre-Columbian artifacts at the Diego Rivera Museum in Mexico City and was inspired by how relatable and sometimes even silly and cute they were,” she says.
His own creations are also marked by their humor and sometimes look like creatures – crawling, whirling and crawling out of another dimension.
A Phantom Limb squat chair doubles as a light, while a silver Bean Pole lamp twists skyward. During this time, she continues to imagine new forms and bring them to light. Check out her work later this year at galleries in New York, including Objective and Emma Scully.
When Bradley Bower exhibited his sculptural paper lanterns at Design Miami in December, he had an immediate hit on his hands. The ingenious designs, exhibited by the Future Perfect, won a top prize and were snapped up by collectors like architect Lee F. Mindel. “I’ve always been interested in how objects can be teachers,” says Bowers, who also creates wallpaper, fabrics and 3D-printed porcelain in his New Orleans studio.
His recent lighting series, Halo, was developed as a sort of antidote to the painstaking methods required to create his ceramics and textiles. By contrast, Halo paper lanterns come to life in the moment, Bowers spontaneously marking, pinning and sculpting works in place with few preconceived ideas.
Indeed, the first iteration was a paper vase: “It was kind of an ultimatum,” he says. “You either watch the vase die or the flowers die, depending on whether you add water.”
The material was revisited after reading a biography of Isamu Noguchi, Listening to Peter, and added a light bulb inside a vase, “an otherworldly moment”. From there, Halo grew into a family of objects. Bowers compares each luminous piece to a narrative, one that is written directly in the meanders of the paper. “They have passages and all these layers,” he says. “The smaller pieces are like haiku, while the bigger ones are like novels.”
F. Taylor Colantonio transforms an age-old process that feels fresh and new in his hands. Its support is papier-mâché and its subject is a mixture of history and myth. He brings other ideas to life in the form of coiled rope ships and plastic flooring.
colantonioa Boston native, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, where his classmates included artist Katie Stout and interior designer Adam Charlap Hyman, both owners of his work.
An apprenticeship with a master papier-mâché craftsman in Puglia, Italy, gave birth to a practice that is both rigorous and inventive. Colantonio has innovated a technique that mimics marble in pattern and color, using a recipe of his own making that took three years to develop.
He is now based in Rome, and the city’s past influences his practice. “My work is inspired by marble and the science of collecting it, documenting it and studying it,” he says. While much of her art is commissioned, many of her vases and woven rugs are available through Coming Soon, a contemporary design boutique in New York’s Chinatown.
With each new object, Colantonio expands his practice, cataloging samples and applying what he has learned to future works. In this way, he constantly exploits antiquity to create something new. “What I love about this medium,” he says, “is that I can push it to do things that other materials can’t.”
While studying film at Brooklyn College, Saji Abude found himself drawn to textiles and sewing. It wasn’t just any stitch he wanted to try, but more specifically a chain stitch, used in everything from lace to crochet to macrame, in which looped stitches form a chain link pattern of chain.
Abude liked the method so much that he started a company of the same name (minus a T): Chain stitch. Soon his embroidery work was commissioned for everything from clothing (Bode) to interior design (Green River Project; Studio Giancarlo Valle)
Fabric has a lot to teach us, says Abude, who recently moved from New York to Los Angeles. Her varied use of fabrics includes pieces that nod to everything from Japanese selvage to Indian and Nigerian embroidery designs, as well as European lace traditions. “One of my favorite textiles to work with is good, heavy, raw denim,” he says. “I love that there’s a bit of a step back because it allows for moments of inspiration and innovation that you don’t normally get.”
Meanwhile, he recently launched Sopa, an interior design studio whose first project is Lullaby, a new bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. At the heart of his design philosophy is a deeply rooted sense of optimism: “If there’s an overarching theme,” he says, “it’s the desire to create new worlds that feel better than where we are now.
furniture designer Sarah Burns tried a lot of things. Although she primarily works in wood – working from her studio in Queens, New York – she also uses glass, metal and enamel, in addition to selling vintage sterling silver from her apartment.
In its joinery, a love of whimsy is subtly acknowledged through curved edges and thoughtful hardware. Her glasswork, including an orb painted with flowers, has a romantic quality to it, and a serious, refined approach to her material choices keeps her designs from becoming unnecessarily playful.
Burns credits his childhood in Minnesota for influencing his style. “My first experience working with wood was with my father,” she says. “He was always fixing things around the house, and he was doing it improvising.”
While their neighbors erected “fish houses” (temporary structures built on frozen lakes for ice fishing) out of modified tents and corrugated iron, his father designed and built mini structures of wood, with shingles, windows and a variety of other oddities. .
Most of Burns’ work is bespoke, but she will be exhibiting several designs this spring at Superhouse in New York. Meanwhile, the design community has taken notice: it has been tapped for projects by Ghislaine Viñas, Nate Berkus and others. “I was never materially motivated,” she says, “I was always more interested in problem solving.”
This story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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