Furniture Design: Meet Jamie Wolfond, master of extraordinary inflatable furniture
- James Cartwright
- 9 January 2014
I’d like to say that I tracked Jamie Wolfond down through meticulous research and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the North American furniture design scene, but the reality is I was trying to find his email address to contact him about a magazine delivery. Still I’m seriously glad I found his website as its contents are a refreshing take on contemporary furniture design.
Jamie’s work is born from experimentation; with ideas, materials and functionality. He’s adept at taking existing elements in industrial manufacturing and adapting them to achieve new and exciting functions – a bench made from inflatable raft elements and tables from hand-molded plastics for example. But apart from enjoying these pieces of kit furniture aesthetically and functionally I was curious to find out how Jamie makes all of these objects a reality. So I asked him.…
Explain what you do as simply as possible.
I design products by experimenting with materials and production techniques.
How did you end up designing furniture?
I’ve wanted to be a furniture designer since I was very young. If such a profession hadn’t existed I think would have tried to invent it myself.
Tell us about your education so far?
I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in furniture design last June. I have worked three internships on Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, at DHPH (formerly Maarten Baas studio) and for Bertjan Pot. I also worked part-time for Rich Brilliant Willing last fall.
All of these experiences have contributed something unique to my perspective. I am lucky to have been around so many passionate people.
What’s your design philosophy for the products you create?
I don’t have just one, and the ones that I do have are always changing. The best way to always really mean what I am making is to acknowledge that my philosophy is always changing.
One constant has been my interest using a simple gesture to make a product. The Emergency Bench is a good example. The factories that make the inflatable parts and the castings were already in place before I started working on the bench. I was able to make an original product simply by applying these processes in a different way. Another example is the Overcast Tables; They are really all about the motion of threading a screw into a soft material and the mechanical connection that it creates when the material has hardened. I like the transparency that these kinds of products can bring to a consumer. It is easy to love an object when it tells the story of its own making.
Certain aspects of my design process have been consistent too. I develop my products by working with a material at full scale – I seldom make complete drawings or even miniature models. It is very easy to make assumptions about the way something will work, look or feel based on a sketch or model in another material. If I make a paper model of something that will ultimately be plastic, for example, I would be responding to the strengths and weaknesses of the paper. Rather than benefiting from the qualities of the plastic it is made from, the result would need to be ‘translated’ into plastic to become it’s final self.
What role does fun play in your work?
I don’t usually set out to make something fun. I have a lot of fun being a designer, so maybe that’s why my work comes off that way.
My colour choices are a large part of it too. The kinds of simple gestures I mentioned earlier always seem to work better in bright colours. We instinctively associate bright colours with speed (fast food signs being a great example). Since speed of production and speed of assembly are are an important part of my work, louder colours fit best.
Explain the Emergency Bench.
Toward the end of my time at RISD I started to think hard about the relationship between designers, brands, producers and consumers. I noticed some places where I thought it could be improved upon, and investigated with a series of manufacturing experiments.
Rather than making a prototype that would need to be adapted for production, I designed the Emergency Bench by working with a producer from the very beginning. The inflatable cylinders used in the benches are manufactured by Jack’s Plastic Welding in New Mexico. The ‘sausage’ as Jack calls it, is the basic building block in every white-water raft he makes.
What are you working on right now?
A whole bunch of things, and everything is at a different phase of development.
Closest to completion is series of air circulators. They’re like fans, but rather than facing in just one direction, they gather and disperse air from all sides. I started with the idea that a paper fan would be a compelling product – I wasn’t sure why. I made a hundred experiments before I decided to try making a paper imitation of the Ventilator Dieter Rams designed for Braun. Since my paper blades were so thin, they deflected under the centripetal force of the spinning fan, creating a much more three-dimensional bubble shape. That became a new starting point for the circulators.
I am also working on a stained-glass lamp that is made of plastic. The manufacturing process will be almost identical to the way traditional stained-glass lights are made (with cut-out sheets of material fixed over a positive mould) but a made more efficient for batch production. The geometric shapes will be laser-cut out of translucent HDPE plastic and welded together with a gooey bead of the same plastic. For this I will be using my newly acquired ‘Drader Injectiweld’, a very user-friendly a handheld extruder – basically a glue gun for industrial plastics.
About the Author
James started out as an intern in 2011 and came back in summer of 2012 to work online and latterly as Print Editor, before leaving in May 2015.