11 International Makers Blurring the Line Between Art and Furniture


Whether it’s a large-scale abstract painting or a small but heavy cast bronze sculpture, art tends to evoke specific emotions when our gaze falls its way. Art, however, is only there for us to look at and appreciate from a relative distance. It doesn’t do anything. A new wave of international makers, though, is creating highly functional furniture that carries out its specific purpose—provide a flat surface to dine on, cast light within a dark space, or offer a home to a floral arrangement—while adding an undeniable artistic element to a room.

From the Canadian husband-and-wife duo handcrafting massive light fixtures that mimic Coco Chanel’s iconic string of pearls to the Barcelona-based weaver looking to her Ghanaian heritage for inspiration, today’s international makers are introducing the emotional impact of art to the functionality of furniture all over the world.

Elnaz Namaki Studio

“I’ve had various design influences that have shaped my perspectives and love of mixing styles to create unique, eclectic, layered interiors,” explains British-born Elnaz Namaki, who split her childhood between London and the nearby English countryside. Though the Iranian furniture designer later lived in Paris and then Istanbul, her English heritage informs her pieces: unique takes on midcentury shapes upholstered in shearling that are not your typical living room furniture pieces. “Everything is inspired by hygge, which is at the heart of Danish culture,” Namaki suggests. “It describes those that crave coziness and comfort, and my Luuna collection is designed to evoke the warmth and comfort that hygge epitomizes.”

Djivan Schapira

There’s something nostalgic about Djivan Schapira’s lacquered pieces—a coral-hued 12-person resin dining table that looks more like a vintage surfboard balancing on thick cylindrical legs than it does a piece of furniture, a sultry table lamp comprised of a glossy burlwood disk boasting a fiery red in-lay that creates a warm backdrop for a single exposed bulb, and an eye-catching coffee table featuring subtle brass ribbons looping through the layered mossy green surfaces, among others.

The 28-year-old French expat’s retro-inspired works of art are the result of his somewhat disconnected interests: “I’m very inspired by classic cars, Space Age design, lava lamps, and the French countryside where I grew up,” he says. “But I’m most inspired by my father, Antoine Schapira,” the artistic patriarch of the family. All of his highly diverse influences effortlessly find each other in his work, which the young New York–based artist is putting on display at the High Line Nine Galleries in New York through the end of March.

Larose Guyon

Partners in both life and business, Audrée Larose and Félix Guyon bring an Old World exquisiteness to their work, which is shaped by local artisans employing savoir-faire and traditional techniques in their Verchères, Quebec, studio. Their pieces, which range from a string of globe fixtures that honor the elegant fashion icon Coco Chanel to a chandelier comprised of glistening aged brass discs that nod to Pierre Le Royer, a 19th-century French-Canadian fur trapper, the pieces donning intricate silhouettes offer as much light as they do charisma. Larose admits, “We often say that we are not doctors and we don’t save lives, but we always try to find a purpose to our work. Ours is to bring poetry and magic into people’s homes.”

Poetry and magic may be the takeaways from their finished pieces, but fine jewelry has always been a source of inspiration behind their sensual collections. From Perle 1, a gently marbled globe light that balances in the center of a satiny metal chain, to Otéro, an elegant tribute to Caroline Otéro and her passion for gleaming, eye-catching jewels, it’s clear how big of a role jewelry plays in their studio. Larose adds, “For our new collection, launching spring 2022, we turned our inspirations towards the majestic surrounding nature, as we’ve been exploring and reinterpreting the moving landscape and the complexity of nature’s elements.”

Andile Dyalvane

South African artist Andile Dyalvane’s delicate terra-cotta ceramics are simultaneously earthy and elegant. They’re also poignantly modish in all the right ways, connecting his Xhosa heritage and his more modern panache. And though his pieces—vases, platters, and bespoke decor—tend to boast his signature abstract designs and Cubist-like human figures, much of Dyalvane’s inspiration comes from his childhood in the rural village of Ngobozana. He explains, “The nature of education was based on the apartheid regime, which crafted the curricula to discriminate against some groups. Bantu education did not allow for subjects like art, which would’ve allowed for too much imagination, so no, I was not aware and was not allowed to think of myself as an artist from a young age.”

Like so many creatives who didn’t realize his artistic inclinations until later in life, Dyalvane found himself gravitating towards clay whenever it was near. Now, he has honed his specific look: gritty, rugged, and organic. “Gratitude and joy are key in my process,” he adds.

Ricardo Graham Ferreira

Ricardo Graham Ferreira may have spent his childhood in the seaside city of Rio de Janeiro, but since starting his own furniture company, he’s moved to the small village within the mountains. At his studio in Nova Friburgo, Ferreira hand-builds sculptural yet delicate pieces out of wood. He notes, “I express my inspiration through wood. I use artisanal techniques to transform wood into furniture and decorative pieces. The hands are always present in my work. They are, in my opinion, the most precious tools.” His pieces—ipe benches with angled dovetails, reclaimed tropical hardwood lounge chairs whose tilted back is an artistic expression of intertwined rami cord and vegetable fiber, and an ergonomic tripod stool that serves as a gentle reminder that simplicity tends to reign for a reason—are undeniably poetic in both their shape and attention to detail.

“Nowadays, I use only local woods—almost only tropical—from sustainable forest management and reclaimed wood,” he adds. And though so many makers are turning toward their locally available lumbar is becoming more commonplace these days, that emphasis on finding unique materials deep within the Amazon is a uniquely Brazilian outlook on furniture design.

Fernando Mastrangelo

“After 10 years of creating sculpture, I started making furniture in 2013. It was an immediate love affair that allowed me to use my background in sculpture to introduce a new perspective in furniture that was conceptual yet functional,” maker Fernando Mastrangelo, based in New York’s Catskill Mountains, explains. His pieces—angular hand-dyed cement console tables that frame a jagged-edged rock salt interior, circular wall mirrors layered with a gentle blanket of colored sand, and a throne-like bench comprises a gray gradient of cement and crushed glass, among others—strike a balance between rough and gentle.

The shapes are often sharp, with clean lines and traditionally hard materials, but the palette—an array of blushes, blues so pale they almost look white, and heather grays—is soft. “My work is about beauty, metaphor and abstraction,” Mastrangelo says, which is abundantly clear upon closer inspection of his delicate pieces, which also evoke a subtle warning about climate change.

Merve Kahrama

Turkish-born Merve Kahrama didn’t intend on becoming an artist. In fact, she studied molecular biology and genetics in college, but made a bold pivot when she suddenly realized “that I was more interested in creating rather than studying the creation.” And create she does. In various studios across Istanbul, Turkey, where the furniture designer lived until enrolling at the Istituto Europeo di Design, in Milan. “A friend of mine once said that my designs look like they are out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and I liked that comparison because that particular tale was my favorite story growing up,” she reminisces.

They may boast Lewis Carroll’s affinity for whimsy, but Kahrama’s work—paint palette-shaped marble side tables whose legs are wrapped in Alexander Girard’s famous checked fabric, a cotton candy-inspired loveseat balancing atop solid American walnut balls, and a metal and rattan floor lamp whose wacky design references Saturn. Like any piece of art, there’s a deeper meaning lingering beneath the funky, almost retro surface of Kahrama’s work: I get inspired by observing the relationship between pieces and their owners. I wonder, ‘Why do we create an emotional bond with some designs and not with the others?’” So she uses materials—especially marble—that she considers “as alive as we are” when creating her wares.

Golden Editions

After nearly two decades in Paris, Golden Editions founder Sara Efia Reddin is settling down in Barcelona, where she works on design projects that she deems “more purposeful than just pure creation.” The daughter of an Irish-Italian man and Ghanian woman, Reddin’s intricate wares—lamps, cushions, and vases—are physical attestations of traditional craft. Quietly luxurious, Reddin’s pieces travel the world before finding their home: They’re designed in Barcelona, Spain, handwoven by local artisan communities in Bolgatanga, Ghana, and finished in back in Spain. “A hundred hands touch the beautiful pieces,” Reddin adds.

Yuko Nishikawa

Claiming that Japanese-born, Brooklyn-based ceramicist Yuko Nishikawa is a lighting designer is overly simplistic because her highly intricate handcrafted fixtures are more than just lights. In fact, she calls her work “fantastical lighting.” Her journey to making her whimsically airy pieces began in a small beach town outside Tokyo and has since led her to New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology (where she earned a degree in interior design); in the offices of interiors firms such as Clodagh, Jeffrey Bilhuber, and Champalimaud; and furniture company Donghia.

She says, “During my decade at Donghia, I played with different mediums and worked on personal projects, including glassblowing, metal welding, woodworking, and painting.” Nishikawa felt herself drifting towards her passion projects more frequently than not, so, in 2018, she established her own design and art practice. “My mission is accomplished when my work transforms a space into a fascinating encounter,” Nishikawa notes. And lighting is hardly her only beat. She also creates sculptures, installations, and paintings.

Robert Kuo

The son of an art professor and watercolor painter, Robert Kuo may not be backed by years of formal training, but his apprenticeship with the artists at his father’s cloisonné atelier offered him more than enough preparation to establish his eponymous studio. Born in Beijing and raised in Taipei, Kuo eventually moved to Beverly Hills, where he opened his own cloisonné studio. He suggests, “Cloisonné has a perception of being fussy and ornate, but I created pieces that were more abstract and fluid. I am a collector of antiques and an admirer of these decorative art traditions. I like using these techniques and pushing their boundaries to create something new and unique, something that isn’t expected.”

He admittedly isn’t going out of his way to make grand statements through his art; he simply “creates what makes [him] happy,” he says. Though the cloisonné is art in itself, Kuo’s talents as a furniture maker are on full display with his lacquered pieces, including a pair of glossy white drum stools that look like giant sugar cubes, funky low-to-the-ground lounge chairs, and a cocktail table comprised of a shiny brass base underneath a black lacquered surface. “The feel of the layered lacquer is something so luxurious,” Kuo says.

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