A/D/O | Neotenic Designs

“Neotenic” Designs

Insight into the world of Neotenic Design.

Cute and fleshy, sweet and soft, there is a growing movement to design furniture to be adorable and pleasant. Abstract anthropomorphic qualities such as stout bases, round corners, and curved legs turn inanimate materials into objects of affection. Justin Donnelly of Brooklyn-based studio JUMBO has dubbed this aesthetic as Neotenic, “possessing childlike features that elicit an emotional response.” Donnelly, along with JUMBO’s co-founder, Monling Lee, curated the current A/D/O show of “Neotenic” designs. United by their physicality, the chairs, lamps, and tables stand like a gathering of clean creatures, asking to be touched, stroked, and loved.

The designers who contributed works to this show represent a wide range of manufacturing techniques, material approaches, and studio ethos. The diversity of their practices and locations exemplifies the far reach of the neotenic aesthetic.

Andreas Lund / Softline, Bob Chair

Danish designer Andreas Lund’s simple and crisp pieces reference traditional Scandinavian design. In Bob Chair, he pairs smooth wood and pastel cushions to create what looks like a giant plush tongue, expertly upholstered and in motion, or a cute little creature with button eyes. Recently, he has received public acclaim for the now iconic Bell Lights he created in collaboration with Jacob Rudbeck for Normann Copenhagen. The Bell Lights even hang above the tables in the A/D/O cafe space. While his work isn’t explicitly loud, the smooth irregular silhouettes have a calm presence. 

Ara Thorose, 7M Chair

Detroit based designer Ara Thorose's 7M Chair looks like a person sitting on the floor with their knees hugged into their chest. Thorose began his Tubular series with the release of his debut tubular stool in 2016. Since then, he has made a collection of three dimensional drawings that follow the human form. Made from fused PVC rubber, his series 3M, 6M, and 7M refer to the number of movements made to form them. This upholstered version of the 7M chair gives fleshy softness to the the already human-like form. It is emblematic of the satisfying oozing shapes that increasingly populate both digital and 3D designs and a poster child of neotenic design. 

Big-Game / Moustache, Bold Chair

Big-Game’s Bold Chair designed for Moustache is made of metal, polyurethane, and a removable textile cover. From knife design and clocks, to geometric accessories and linear furniture, the Swiss company is not typically so neotenic in their designs. The deviation of this design is perhaps what earned it the title Bold. While still sitting symmetrically, the Bold Chair is uniquely round, cushioned, and its back legs are splayed humorously.

Chris Wolston, Terracotta Furniture

New York based artist Chris Wolston creates energized fantastical pieces whose varied forms are bound by their celebratory energy and material exploration. From his collection Body in which the chairs have literal human shaped feet and are formed by metal figures joined together to his collection Terracotta Furniture where chairs double as lopsided planters, his furniture has personality. This is the only Terracotta piece in the show, but even with its rough hand-shaped form, it is comfortably neotenic.

Färg & Blanche, Succession Stool

The Succession Stool by Swedish designer Fredrik Färg and French designer Emma Marga Blanche perches like an animal without a head. The subtitle for the the project, “the family I did not know I had,” personifies the collection as a group of kin. Created by wrapping leather with strings and then baking it, the stool maintains the imprint of being bound. In their description of the Succession collection, Färg & Blanche speak about the pieces in terms of them coming to life through this process, “they become [...] like living furniture populating our home.” It feels slightly creepy, and the black leather is certainly more sinister than other materials they use in their fantastical lights, and colorful upholstery.

Faye Toogood, Driade Roly Poly Chair and Puff Ball Lamp

Faye Toogood is a British designer whose distinct multi-media practice is at the same time both popular and experimental. Sharing a studio with her sister Erica who works in textiles and clothing design, they have developed an ability to create full narrative worlds out of the relationship between the objects they make. Within the context of the Neotenic design show, the Roly Poly Chair and Puff Ball Lamp are light hearted and silly, in other contexts, the reserved pallet of Toogood’s designs can seem more serious and mature.

Front / Moroso, Anomaly Seat

A furry little green monster, the Anomaly Seat designed by Front for Moroso is full of character. Part of a family of other animal-like seats, Moroso describes the Anomaly collection as: “Transnatural pets... Creatures which are slightly unsettling yet docile and harmless,” and Front dubs them, “Objects to awaken your curiosity, your affection, or perhaps even repulsion.” Front plays with the visceral reaction their work evokes through a range of approaches and unusual techniques, even involving animals in the creation of some of their designs. As they constantly explore new materials to generate surrealist narratives, the Anomaly Seat is an anomaly amongst furniture but is in accord with the family of objects they create.

Jean-Baptiste Fastrez / Moustache, Olo Light

“It reminds us of an old chandelier, a vintage Super 8 camera or a futuristic domestic robot,” Jean-Baptiste says of the Olo Light. Fastrez Studio creates work that often experiments with form, research, and material, and the Olo Light is one of the few objects they create for mass production. Cast in a single piece of ceramic, the smooth shell of the light is somehow both nostalgic and futuristic. Designed to balance on three different sides, the lights act like little shining eyes, and the light can feel unassuming or ambient when facing up and interrogating, and direct when facing front.

HAHA, Vima Floor Lamp

Based in Stockholm, HAHA Studio was founded by by Arash Eskafi and Yujin Chiang. In the same vein as the neotenic principle of universal attraction to cute round childlike objects HAHA studio states that, “the studio is in constant search of what can be understood by all of us. Like laughter,” they, “[rely] on fundamental shapes, choice materials and universal truths to design their iconic work. To create objects that all of us have an instinctive response to.” In that spirit, the drooping Vima Floor Lamp was made of industrial materials and designed to give[...] off the essence of public street lighting, compacted for the dwelling. It’s a synthesis of iconic street lamps found throughout the world.” Much of HAHA Studios work fits the Neotenic aesthetic and perhaps what HAHA Studio is calling fundamental and universal truths is what JUMBO is calling neotenic.

Jack Rabbit Studio, Chubby Chair

Brett Miller, founder of Jack Rabbit Studio, is based in the Hudson Valley where Miller handcrafts wood furniture like his Chubby Chair. Styled in one photo with a croissant resting on the chair, it furthers the personification of the object as something eating or being fed. Its overstuffed cushion, exaggerated legs, and light coloring transform wood into something fleshy, round, and squat. The Chubby Chair achieves the most central attributes of neotenic furniture. 

Jaime Hayon / Parachilna, Aballs Table Lamp

While some neotenic furniture transforms materials so that they appear lighter than they are, the Aballs Table Lamp appears sturdy but is fragile, made of hand blown glass resting on a ceramic base. Created as part of a series of lamps for Parachilna, Jaime Hayon aimed to combine “the world class craftsmanship skills of Bosa [an Italian Ceramics manufacturer] with the traditional artistry of hand blown glass.” Based in Valencia Spain, Hayon often works with local artisans and small studios to manufacture much of his work. The abstract shape of the Aballs Table Lamp may represent a little body with a large head and a light knob as a belly button, however, some of Hayon’s other collections are far more figurative with literal faces and bodies. This is one tennant of neotenic design, that objects elicit emotional responses yet are only hinting at anthropomorphic qualities.

Jonas Wagell / Menu, Concrete Lamp

Jonas Wagell founder of JWDA designs furniture and lighting out of Stockholm. In one of his early projects, Mini House, he designed a simple yet “refined” house that could be flat packed for easy transport, manufacture, and assembly. Since then, minimalist joinery, natural materials, and curved shapes have been a throughline in his work. The Concrete Lamp was born out of a collaboration with family owned business and steel factory MENU. Made of three materials, the lamp was immediately successful and started a long series of collaborations between the studios. Within the context of the show, it is a sweet little shape, however outside of the show the lamp could easily be read as elegant rather than as neotenicly cute.

JUMBO, Neotenic Floro Light

Curators of the Neotenic Show, JUMBO’s Justin Donnelly and Monling Lee are leaders in the neotenic design space. Their most recent Neotenic Collection of objects incorporates the findings of their research on the aesthetic, “simple shapes, short thick members, soft edges, and a clumsy appearance.” They conclude “the resulting form appeals to our biological imperative to nurture— to see ourselves in our surroundings and cherish the childlike.” Using this same tenant to outline the parameters for the show, they brought together misfits, childlike, and expectant into one united conversation. Like the Aballs Table Lamp, their springy looking Floro Light is made enameled clay and glass. Playful but delicate, it is a toy for the eyes.

Loïc Bard, Bone Stool

Montreal based designer Loïc Bard creates soft minimal furniture out of wood, tenderly sanded and bound by precise joinery. Handcrafted by Bard in his woodshop, each piece feels cared for. Like the other pieces in the show, the round squatness of his work invokes a sweetness, yet it is tempered by the austere title: Bone Collection. The pieces simultaneously reflect the inner structure of the body, the sturdy yet smooth mechanics of bones, while also being cute. The juxtaposition reads like dry humor.

Müsing–Sellés, Set No. 5 Cocktail Table

One would never guess that the shining metallic looking Set No. 5 Cocktail Table designed by based Müsing–Sellés was made of plywood. Coated in a gradient ox-blood car paint, the glistening cocktail table is severe, futuristic, and sexy, overcoming its otherwise typical neotenic attributes. Released as part of Sight Unseen in 2018 the young studio is already making a splash with this collection of furniture having been included in various magazines and presented multiple times since. Now, with a growing fan base, hopefully they can chanel this momentum into an equally notable next collection. 

Pierre Yovanovitch, Baby Bear Armchair

Paris based Pierre Yovanovitch runs an Interior Architecture Agency, designs Brancusi-esque furniture, and is also the creator of few cuddly chairs. Based on the story of “Goldilocks and The Three Bears,” the Baby Bear Armchair is the smallest of a set including Mama and Papa bear. It is the most openly sweet of his projects, with little ears and a fuzzy body, and shows a humour and jovial spirit more subtly apparent in his other work. As a detail in the elegant interiors he creates the chair lightens the mood, and as a neotenic design it successfully invokes feelings of wanting to snuggle into it. 

Sylvain Willenz / Established And Sons, Torch Light and Sylvain Willenz / Toss B, Dot Table Lamp

Smoothly rendered both the Torch Light and Dot Table Lamp quietly assert themselves as accents to a room. Based out of Brussels, Sylvain Willenz’ multi-disciplinary design office is focussed on subtle, clear, efficient designs. Both lights are versatile and have made their mark in countless offices, homes, and businesses. These lamps are more abstractly neotenic than the other work in the show but the round top of the Dot Table Lamp speaks to the Concrete Lamp and Neotenic Floro Lamp while the award winning Torch Lamp is the understated cousin to the Vima Floor Lamp.

Talbot & Yoon, Kirbies

Talbot & Yoon describe their Kirbies collection as “three best bud vases to keep you company.” Charming and cute, they have a distinctly playful and almost mischievous character. Very neotenic. The New York based team enjoys making each object by hand and declares that they “want to provide the adult consumer with the same delight from the end product as we experience in the process of design.” Their work shows their experimental nature and objects such as amorphous gooey candles called Goobers or the tripod based First Tri Stools show their fun.

  • Andreas Lund / Softline, Bob Chair
  • Ara Thorose, 7M Chair
  • Big-Game/ Moustache, Bold Chair
  • Chris Wolston, Terracotta Furniture
  • FÄrg & Blanche, Succession Stool
  • Faye Toogood / Driade / Roly Poly Chair
  • Faye Toogood / Puff Ball Lamp
  • Front / Moroso, Anomaly Seat
  • Jean-Baptiste Fastrez / Moustache, Olo Light
  • HAHA, Vima Floor Lamp
  • Jack Rabbit Studio, Chubby Chair
  • Jaime Hayon / Parachilna, Aballs Table Lamk
  • Jonas Wagell / Menu, Concrete Lamp
  • JUMBO, Neotenic Floro Light
  • Konstantin Grcic / Magis, Sam Son Easy Chair
  • Loic Bard, Bone Stool
  • Müsing–Sellés, Set No. 5 Cocktail Table
  • Pierre Yovanovitch, Baby Bear Armchair
  • Sylvain Willenz / Established And Sons, Torch Light
  • Sylvain Willenz / Toss B, Dot Table Lamp
  • Talbot & Yoon, Kirbies

Text by Lily Saporta Tagiuri

Images by Justin Ryan Kim