AHEC presents Discovered: the new generation of designers
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AHEC presents Discovered: the new generation of designers

AHEC presents Discovered: the new generation of designers
By Editorial Staff -
Ahec has participated in the project

Discovered is a new project created by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) in partnership with Design Museum to support and promote young designers. Participants have been asked to create a work inspired by their life in a pandemic world.

The selected designers were supported by mentors from AHEC and production partners to help them give form to their ideas using three sustainable species of American hardwoods chosen by AHEC: American maple, red oak, and cherry.

“Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, and cultures, our twenty talented creatives from sixteen countries give a truly global perspective on what it means to be a young designer today. We’re putting at their disposal some of the best hardwoods there are (cherry, hard and soft maple, and red oak), providing mentoring support from established designers and access to top craftsmanship, to give them a unique experience that I really hope will inspire them in their future careers.”

David Venables, European Director of AHEC

The designers found their inspiration by exploring their own personal and cultural backgrounds from the perspective of their needs in their everyday lives – the desire to connect with nature, to connect to their own communities, or simply to stand back and listen.

The projects created are all unique and functional – furniture and décor imagined for the domestic environments and public spaces of the future. They demonstrate how isolation inspired the designers’ personal and creative journeys, and helped them revisit their thinking on domestic and public spaces.

The project will be documented on the discovered.global portal. The final pieces will be exhibited at London’s Design Museum in 2021. Throughout the project, the designers were supported by David Venables, European director of the AHEC; Rod Wiles, regional director for Africa, Middle East, India and Oceania; and a group of international designers, including Tomoko Azumi, Maria Jeglinska, Nathan Yong, and Adam Markovitz.


Sizar Alexis
Wood: American cherry

After living through the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Alexis imagined his house as a bunker that protects his family and son, who was born during the pandemic. Inspired by the similarities between his son’s childhood and his own, his pieces are defined by monolithic forms and stillness. The large volumes of his storage cabinet and bench designs were inspired by bunker architecture.

Isabelle Baudraz
Wood: American cherry

To deal with her feelings of isolation, Baudraz recreated tactile and emotional connections in her designs. Inspired by the idea of bringing the movements and shapes of nature indoors, she created a series of objects that encourage tactile exploration and interaction. Her pieces include a suspended mobile, a desk object, and a wall-mounted installation designed to stimulate tactile connection during periods of lockdown. With their natural shapes, her designs are small daily companions for reconnecting to life and overcoming feelings of isolation.

Nong Chotipatoomwan
Thought Bubble
Wood: American red oak

A nostalgia for travel and social interaction guided Chotipatoomwan’s creative thinking. Physical movements were replaced by changing moods, while the physical realm was merged with the psychological through the domestic space. Exploring the realm of furniture created specifically for relaxation, the designer homed in on rocking motion as the basis of her design, creating a chair that offers an experience halfway between relaxation and repetitive movement to promote mindfulness.

Mac Collins
Wood: American red oak

Although the term isolation has taken on negative connotations over the past year, for Collins it has positive meanings. “For me, the word has always carried romanticized connotations of contentment, serenity, contemplation, and a sense of withdrawal from the rigmarole of socially prescribed routine,” he explains. During lockdown, books became Collins’s most cherished companions. This served as the inspiration for his design. His double-armrest lounge chair and bookrest “companion object” encourage you to tune out from everyday life and focus on reading and reflection.

Mew Mungnatee
Corners Lamp
Wood: American soft maple and cherry

Mungnatee’s designs are inspired by pagodas. Their surfaces were handcrafted by skilled Thai artisans, using techniques over 200 years old. The designer’s emotional response to the objects surrounding her manifested itself in the relationship between form, light, and shadow – the relationship that this project explores in its geometries. Her lamp designs are based on the bulb casting a shadow on the surfaces below it, using an intricate grid composition with wooden slats and indented corners.

Siyanda Mazibuko
Kumsuka – Evolve Your Space
Wood: American red oak

Among the inspirations for Mazibuko’s piece were the isicolo, a hairstyle that symbolizes tribal identity in various African cultures, and the indlamu, a Zulu tribal dance performed at celebrations. He combined these visual references into a reflection on themes of engaging with others, human behavior, and the role of design in people’s lives. “Engaging with other people is an intrinsic human trait,” says the designer, citing this as the element at the base of his design: a modular seat intended for public spaces. Mazibuko took a practical approach, investigating ergonomics and functionality to create a bench made up of interlocking wooden slats.

Josh Krute
Wood: American hard maple

Inspired by totems (toteemi in Finnish), Krute created a multifunctional storage system. Starting from the observation that domestic spaces get taken over by work materials during the time we spend at home, Krute imagined a series of stackable boxes for storing tools and small objects. Other components include a table, tray, and stools. This modular system is all about tactile wooden objects, niches, and small structures, which Krute brought together in a compact, practical design. “Toteemi provides solutions for how we shift between living and working in the same environment,” he says.

Kodai Iwamoto
Wood: American red oak

To create his design, Iwamoto researched traditional Japanese techniques, including uzukuri (texturing wood by rubbing it), chouna (shaping the surface of wood with an adze), and wariita (planing wood with a Japanese saw known as a froe). From there, the designer started experimenting directly on the wood, removing its top layers to create a new veneer. These imperfectly textured panels became the starting point of a design exploration that led him to a round table shape, with the subtle material used as the base to create the effect of an ancient tree trunk.

Pascal Hien
Migo 01
Wood: American red oak

“The pandemic was a time for pause and reflection, when we became more present with ourselves and our surroundings,” says Hien. His piece, a multifunctional stool, is the product of the designer’s reflections during a period of change and uncertainty, in which he learned to adapt and tune out of his busy life. The stool represents this constantly changing life: “You can adapt it in various ways, there is no front or back, no right or wrong.” It’s a helper around the house or a place to sit. While living with his family during the pandemic, Hien got them all involved in testing the piece, making them a part of his work as a designer for the first time.

Huyen Trang Thi Nguyen
The Roof Stool
Wood: American cherry, red oak, and hard maple

Nguyen took traditional Vietnamese tiles as the springboard for her design, creating a collection of stools that mimic the way tiles overlap to hide the underlying structures. Her simple design is inspired by traditional temple architecture and Vietnamese clothing. It features contrasting wooden pins at the joints, which are hidden when the stools are stacked but reveal themselves when used. Nguyen noticed how people tend to spend more time at home and have friends over. With her design, she therefore wanted to create extra seating for around the house that would also form a beautiful composition when stacked away.

Alessandra Fumagalli Romario
Studiolo 2.0
Wood: American cherry

Over the course of endless Zoom calls, video meetings, and Instagram Lives, Fumagalli Romario took note of people’s backgrounds during calls. This got her thinking about “the importance of objects as an extension of ourselves. On the one hand, they create many boundaries, on the other, the boundaries disappear – private and public are mixed together.” She compared these background spaces to the small studios found in Renaissance paintings and cabinets of curiosities. With this as her inspiration, she created a visual background in the form of a cabinet that video users can use to express themselves through objects that can be displayed or hidden. Its compact design, which uses American cherry to convey depth, is both practical and aesthetic.

Taiho Shin
Wood: American maple

During lockdown, Shin noted that “objects help human resilience through unusual situations.” This thought served as the basis for his design. Guided by the “Ikea effect” (consumers attribute more value to products they’ve helped create), he thought of a semi-built design that users could assemble to foster interaction with their furniture. He created a small table that fits together using a simple but ingenious system of joints (no glue required). Multiple products can be used to create a flexible shelving system, suitable for different spaces.

Mimi Shodeinde
Howard Desk
Wood: American red oak and soft maple

“The pandemic world is entirely new,” observes Shodeinde. “There are new ways of interacting, living, and working, along with new dangers. In designing furniture for this new paradigm, we should seek out the familiar and the comforting. We should seek freedom, connection, stability, and strength.” And these qualities are on show in her design: a solid desk whose light forms intertwine with the solidity and weight of timber. The designer has drawn upon a wide range of cultural references, from the compositions of the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth to the modern architecture of Lina Bo Bardi, as well as aerodynamics (the name of the piece is inspired by pilot Howard Hughes). These influences converge in a sinuous shape, a design that might challenge the familiar but also creates a sense of security.

Juan Franco and Juan Sierra
Riverside Bench
Wood: American red oak

During lockdown, objects have changed their function and meaning, as we’ve found ourselves looking for space within our space. It was this observation that gave life to the project by Franco and Sierra, who looked at how furniture changes function and how adaptability is fundamental – both in a pandemic world and in modern life in general. Inspired by adaptable design (such as Colombia’s stilt houses), they created a bench that adapts to different needs, thanks to the addition of accessories, such as backrests and trays that fit into a central slot. The bench is therefore fully multifunctional, suitable for home, work, or public settings.

Ivana Taylor
Wood: American maple, cherry, and red oak

Taylor’s experience with lockdown led to long periods of reflection, ultimately inspiring the designer to change her approach to design and construction. For this project, she set out to “design a contemplative sculptural object that triggered reflection on the multi-layered nature of any experience, including isolation.” In designing the piece, she looked for ways to reframe the view from different perspectives. The result is a sculpture made up of a series of smaller sculptures that overlap to create a “sculpted path for light.”

Martin Thübeck

Wood: American red oak

While confined to his home, Thübeck was inspired by the way his children naturally adapted to their surroundings when playing, completely ignoring the traditional uses of furniture. “Limitations become possibilities,” he says. After studying both traditional furniture and playground equipment, he developed a piece whose construction is informed by Swedish craft traditions and whose function shifts between a chair and, by turning it upside down, a slide. “This piece is a symbol of coexistence. The act of turning it is like moving between worlds,” he says, citing a combination of approaches that merges indoor and outdoor, stasis and movement, and the different perspectives of adults and kids. “I wasn’t aiming to fully merge the two functions, but to see what happens when they’re so close together that they become one.”

Doris Wang
Winding Stream
Wood: American hard maple

Unable to properly perform their traditions during lockdown, people were restricted to performing small rituals in their own home. Furniture and objects today must respond to new needs, that is, they must adapt to small spaces, while maintaining their function and purpose. Wang wanted to recreate in the home setting a typical Chinese tradition known as the “festival of the winding river,” which is usually performed in tea houses. It involves floating a cup in a stream, while participants sit on the banks. When the cup stops, the nearest person takes a drink. In designing a compact table that could perform this function, Wang was inspired by Hakka round houses, an architectural reference that he translated into a sinuous design with storage spaces hidden in the legs, and a central slot for trays and cups.

Tan Wei Xiang
Recollect Cabinet
Wood: American soft maple, hard maple, and red oak

Looking for a more tangible connection with his loved ones than virtual calls, Tan turned to his collection of mementos. His keepsake cabinet is a way to store and respect the objects we care about. Its shapes were inspired by Singapore’s ubiquitous construction sites and the corrugated sheeting used to fence them off. Tan used this motif as the outer shell of his tall, slender cabinet, and created curved shelves to fit inside it, with a mirror-polished brass ring that mimics the sun setting over the horizon.

Duncan Young
Wood: American hard maple

Young focused on wood and how it can help us connect with nature while confined to our home. “For those in dense urban environments, lockdowns have impacted our physical and mental strength by limiting the biological need humans have for being in outdoor spaces,” he says. After looking at studies analyzing nature’s positive impact on physical and mental health, he created a modern cabinet of curiosities that lets people interact with the natural world while at home. Featuring a solid structure and a moiré-effect shelf, and inspired by the historical symbolism of the cabinet as theater, the simple plinth recreates the effect of walking in a forest clearing.

Vivienne Wong
luxta Me Coffee Table
Wood: American cherry

A dancer who became a designer, Wong looked at non-verbal communication as the starting point of her project, which she approach from a place of personal reflection and knowledge. “I wanted to translate my previous understanding of how we can connect and communicate to one another,” she says regarding her work to create a piece that fosters strength, intimacy, and connection. Invisible physical boundaries and the creation of textures through light served as the basis of the design. The result was a coffee table defined by its forms and whose functional joinery is also a decorative motif of the piece. The name of the design, Iuxta Me (Latin for “close to me”) expresses the desire for human connection and closeness.

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