From concrete planters cast from fruit to whittled toothbrush shanks, Pratt Institute graduates Chen Chen and Kai Williams (CCKW) have been exploring industrial processes and materials to create furniture, products and art since 2011. "Our design philosophy is very bottom-up," Chen says. "We experiment with materials and allow them to inform us of what products to make from them."
One of the first results of this design philosophy was a set of Cold Cut Coasters, inspired by the way in which deli meats are sliced at the point of purchase. Chen and Williams wanted to replicate that effect with a product where they could pre-make a "loaf" and slice it depending on how much a customer wanted.
"Eventually, we came to the realization that this was not going to be possible," Chen says. "But in trying for that goal, we came up with a way to make composite materials with intricate patterns by soaking fabric in resin and then wrapping it around solid materials like wood. This process brought an element of chance into each composition we made, as we had no idea what the slices were going to look like until they were cut." That material exploration also laid the groundwork for what would become a series of four rugs made in collaboration with Tai Ping Carpets and released during Art Basel Miami Beach last December.
Detail views of Coast Occult Dress (top) The Oldest Stucco Star is another one of the four rugs Chen Chen and Kai Williams designed for Tai Ping Carpets
Chen and Williams had first been introduced to Tai Ping during an earlier Design Miami event, and when the two parties began to consider collaborating, they agreed that the Cold Cut Coasters—having been made partly from fabric—were a good starting point. Chen and Williams selected their favorites from the Cold Cut series and sent high-resolution images to Tai Ping. The carpet company then outlined individual colors it could detect to create vector files from each coaster, forming the blueprints for the carpets.
Blueprints in hand, Chen and Williams worked closely with Tai Ping to make decisions about the composition of each rug, including the choice of fibers, how to tuft each section, the way the fibers would be cut, and the pile height for each vectorized section of the carpet. To maintain the look and feel of the Cold Cuts, CCKW used a mix of fibers such as wool, flax, bamboo and silk to accomplish a myriad of contrasting textures in each design. Chen and Williams even kept the gaps and holes where air pockets had formed in the resin of the original coasters, so the final rugs also provide glimpses of the floor underneath.
Another of the final rugs, this one named Cutlass Credo Cost
From idea to fruition, the entire process took around five months. The carpets marked CCKW's first collaboration with a major manufacturer. "We had minimal opportunity to see the actual production process," Chen says. "We would see samples and then give input about what could be changed, but since all production was happening in Hong Kong, it was quite a hands-off approach and trusting in the amazing abilities of Tai Ping."
This was a new experience for a studio that is used to making most of its work by hand, or at least with close supervision of each step of the process. But, Chen says, the collaboration actually ended up being a perfect fit for their process-based approach: "It is within the same vein of leaving something out of our control, and allowing the process to form the object."