May 15, 2017

10 Questions With… Studio Gorm

Studio Gorm, a studio led by University of Oregon professors John and Wonhee Arndt, are having their moment. The Eugene, Oregon–based design duo will unveil “Furnishing Utopia,” a showcase of Shaker furniture and objects, at WantedDesign Manhattan during NYCxDESIGN. The recipients of Wanted’s American Design Honors collaborated with talents such as Norm Architects and Bertjan Pot to create the collection, which examines the Shaker influence on American furniture and interiors. Design Within Reach will also showcase objects from “Furnishing Utopia” alongside original Shaker artifacts at their SoHo flagship during ICFF. Below, Studio Gorm divulges what inspired the project and what they’re most looking forward to during NYCxDESIGN.

Interior Design: Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your work?

John Arndt: In southeastern Wisconsin on a lake in the woods. Because of this, I have always been inspired by natural materials. There was also a strong Bauhaus influence in the region—something I was totally unaware of until I left! My family is made up of artists and artisans—my father was a comic book artist and science fiction illustrator.

Wonhee Arndt: In Incheon, South Korea. After living in Europe it made me appreciate the difference in Western and Eastern culture. Traditional patterns, materials, colors, and ways of doing simple things in different ways have been influential in various projects.

Various pieces in Furnishing Utopia. Image courtesy of Design Within Reach.

ID: Tell me about “Furnishing Utopia.” How did the project start, and what did you learn from seeing it through?

Studio Gorm: It started as an academic research project where we examined cultures of functional aesthetics. We traveled to Hancock Shaker Village and Mount Lebanon Shaker Museum to visit their collections and were overwhelmed with how many amazing things they had in their archives. We thought it would be nice to bring together a group of designers we admire to have a workshop and create objects based on what we saw. It was really inspiring to collaborate with so many great people, and we were impressed with how invested everyone has been. The project has presented several opportunities to travel and exhibit the work. It has grown much bigger than we ever anticipated.

ID: Do you find that Shaker design principles inform your work?

SG: Definitely. That’s how the project started—trying to figure out the principles behind their objects. The one we usually reference is: “Don’t make something unless it is useful and necessary, and once you have eliminated what is not useful or necessary, make it as beautiful as possible.” It’s hard to go wrong with that.

Various pieces in Furnishing UtopiaImage courtesy of Design Within Reach.

ID: What are your favorite materials?

SG: Wood. We know it well, it’s unpredictable, and it makes you more conscious of how to use it appropriately. Ceramics are also a favorite—they’re incredibly versatile. 

ID: What’s been your favorite collaboration?

SG: Working with Lesley Herzberg at Hancock Shaker Village and Jerry Grant at Mount Lebanon Shaker Museum for “Furnishing Utopia.” They’ve been really generous with their time and access to their collections. And, of course, the amazing designers working on the project. It’s exciting to get an inside glimpse of different studios’ processes. Ladies and Gentlemen Studio and Christopher Specce have been incredible partners.

ID: What are a few recent projects?

SG: Creating products for Good Thing; furniture, lighting, and objects for Danish brand Normann Copenhagen; contract furniture for HBF; and exhibition design in Korea.

Various pieces in Furnishing Utopia. Image courtesy of Design Within Reach.

ID: What are you most looking forward to during NYCxDESIGN? 

SG: Seeing how the U.S. design scene has matured and evolved. There are many great designers and brands that are pushing craft and material experimentation in a sophisticated way. People outside the U.S. have taken notice and it has influenced the rest of the world. We’re excited to be immersed in it—we’re pretty removed from the rest of the design world out in Oregon.

ID: Which person, place, or thing—inside the industry or out—inspires you? 

SG: Jean Prouvé, Hans Wegner, Børge Mogensen, Charles & Ray Eames, the Bouroullec brothers, Naoto Fukasawa, and Jasper Morrison.

ID: Favorite paint color? 

SG: We really like Benjamin Moore’s Regent Green. The brand’s Advance paint is amazing for furniture. 

ID: A secret source you’re willing to share?

SG: We have no secrets.

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