Every year Wilsonart presents an undergraduate class of industrial-design students a simple brief: using laminate (the company’s core product), build an eye-catching yet functional chair that is strong enough to hold 400 pounds. The winner receives a $1,000 scholarship and the type of exposure that comes from having one’s work showcased at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
This time around, the Texas-based company approached the Rochester Institute of Technology, where Josh Owen, an associate professor of industrial design, directed his students to find clever seating options for contexts as varied as a tattoo parlor and a collaborative meeting space. The results included a conjoined pair of Windsor loungers, a bench with a built-in office watercooler, and a personal-grooming stool with storage compartments—three of the five finalist chairs that will travel to ICFF. But the winning design, by Daniel Fritz, stood out for its classic proportions, reminiscent of Harry Bertoia’s Diamond chair, and the flawless craftsmanship with which 280 powder-coated hexagons were painstakingly welded onto a steel mesh. According to Fritz, the repetitive pattern is meant to evoke “meditation and just zoning out.” Ah, to be a college student again.