Tantalising resin furniture by visionary designers

Designers are harnessing the preserved-in-aspic quality of poured resin to create pieces of intriguing furniture, says Lucia van der Post

Martha Sturdy resin and steel Floating Square table, £3,455, and resin and leather Preston club chair, £9,650
Martha Sturdy resin and steel Floating Square table, £3,455, and resin and leather Preston club chair, £9,650 | Image: Raeff Miles, courtesy of Martha Sturdy

One of the pieces of furniture that I most lust after is Shiro Kuramata’s sublime Miss Blanche chair. He only ever made 56, and just last December one sold at auction for $384,500. An homage to the corsage worn by Vivien Leigh when she played Blanche DuBois in the film of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, it is given its otherworldly beauty by the seat and arms, which are formed from transparent resin blocks in which roses appear to float. There could scarcely be a more exquisite demonstration of the creative and artistic possibilities of resin.

Clearly moved by much the same impulse is Marcin Rusak, an award-winning young designer whose work is all based around the ephemeral beauty of flowers, which he captures and encloses in resin. Partly inspired by his family history – the Rusaks owned a horticulture company that they ran for 100 years before they had to close it (“I grew up,” he says, “around abandoned glasshouses in Poland”) – there is an echo of this sense of loss in the way he uses flowers, as they fade away and we lose them forever.

From left: Alcarol resin, oak and steel Chimenti table, from £7,750. Alcarol resin, oak and steel Abyss lamp, from £1,800
From left: Alcarol resin, oak and steel Chimenti table, from £7,750. Alcarol resin, oak and steel Abyss lamp, from £1,800

“I started trying to work on materials that would age, so that the owners could see a patina developing and a change happening over time,” he explains. “My first experiments used flowers injected with bacteria and set in resin, so the flowers could be seen as they were being eaten by the bacteria, withering and dying, and leaving a void. But I thought most people wouldn’t want to be left with a void, so I started using flowers that didn’t have the bacteria. I wanted more to capture the look of a Flemish painting, and I began using black resin to encapsulate the flowers, because this echoes the black ponds often found in the paintings.”

He calls his collection Flora Temporaria, for though the flowers don’t disappear, they do undergo some changes when set in the resin. Flora Perma, meanwhile, uses flowers that are processed and dried, and so never change. The whole Flora collection features tables, screens, lights and panels, all using only what Rusak describes as “friendly flowers” – that is, ones discarded by florists. He uses two types of resin in his work. For vases and sculptural pieces he chooses the organic kind, which comes from plants and insects, has been used for centuries and could be reabsorbed into the soil, while for his furniture designs he turns to synthetic factory-made versions. “When I have a big block I cut it into slices and this gives an amazing cross-section of the flowers,” he says. “They can then be turned into lamps or vases.” Prices vary because everything is one-off, but a floral lamp would cost about £4,600, a round table from £16,000.

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Another artist, Martha Sturdy, fell in love with resin while studying at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design, one of the world’s best art institutions, where she was required to experiment with multimedia. “What made me fall for resin was the colours,” she says. “You can make it in any colour you want, and it can look like marble, steel or glass. My resin comes in liquid form and I colour it the way I like it – pink, purple, gold, blue – and stir it like paint. Then I pour it into one of the hundreds of moulds I’ve got and once it sets, about three or four hours later, I start to work with it.”

For her Preston club chair (£9,650), she uses hand-poured metallic-gold resin to make the frame, which she then combines with Italian leather to create the finished product. Her Floating Square and Rectangular tables are also made with hand-poured metallic-gold resin. They come on a steel base with castors, with the 51cm x 51cm x 41cm version costing £3,455. Her pure white resin Arbutus dining table (£7,385) looks just like marble, while the very similar-shaped Fluid Resin table (£9,650), made from hand-poured black resin on steel with applied gold resin, is infinitely rich and glamorous. “Resin is elegant and unique yet very durable,” says Sturdy. “If it marks or scratches, you simply take some steel gauze, scrub away and it is good as new. It is a crazy material, and a lot of fun to work with.” Sturdy also has some stools (£1,450 each) on castors made from hand-poured grey and gold dual-pour resin. The Sturdy Round table (£4,950) in canary yellow with a steel base is a perfect illustration of resin’s ability to hold colour, as is the matching Cube stool (£1,365).

Nucleo resin and wood Souvenir of the Last Century console, price on request
Nucleo resin and wood Souvenir of the Last Century console, price on request

Some of the most extraordinarily interesting work in resin at the moment is coming out of Turin, courtesy of Italian design collective Nucleo, directed by Piergiorgio Robino. Its recent Souvenir of the Last Century collection (all prices on request) takes classic pieces of furniture sourced from all over the world and encases them in clear epoxy resin, thereby preserving handmade crafts from the past while simultaneously creating heirlooms for the future. Nucleo describes the pieces as “a collection of memories upcycled into new physical forms” and, having already applied the process to a stool and ladder, it has now added a console, wooden bench, tray and, most recently, one of Michael Thonet’s best-known designs, the bentwood No 14 chair.

The process creates bubbles and impurities in the resin, which Nucleo sees as forms of embellishment. It is a fascinating exercise that adds a sense of rediscovery to familiar items, reinventing them for the 21st century. And though clearly very conceptual, all the pieces are also very useable – halfway between art and functional sculpture. Each piece from the collection is a one-off that takes a minimum of 30 days to make.

From left: Shiro Kuramata 1989 resin, artificial rose and aluminium Miss Blanche chair, sold at Sotheby’s for $384,500 last year. Saerom Yoon resin Crystal table, €2,800
From left: Shiro Kuramata 1989 resin, artificial rose and aluminium Miss Blanche chair, sold at Sotheby’s for $384,500 last year. Saerom Yoon resin Crystal table, €2,800 | Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s. All rights reserved by Dae Hoon

London designer Andy Martin first started using resin when he experimented with making surfboards as a teenager. He now takes layers of contrasting coloured resin to make pieces of furniture for his California Sunshine series (from £5,400). Both transparent and semi-opaque versions of the material are used, with the semi-opaque appearing to glow when light falls upon it. He opts for very simple forms, and much of the charm lies in the colours he chooses – often bright bubble‑gum pink or butter yellow in contrasting concentric circles.

One of two exceptional South Korean designers experimenting with resin is Wonmin Park. For his dreamlike Haze furniture series he uses delicate pastel colours to create pieces that look so light they seem as if they are about to float away. Park says he uses resin for its “sense of lightness and purity, and because it gives a sensation of painting enveloped air”. Indeed, there appear to be no fixed boundaries to his exquisitely delicate chairs and tables (from €9,500), made at his studios in the Dutch city of Eindhoven and Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s Roissy space on the outskirts of Paris.

From left: Marcin Rusak flower-infused resin, glass and brass Flora lamp, about £4,600. Martha Sturdy resin Fluid Art stools, £2,010 each, and resin and steel Fluid Resin table, £9,650
From left: Marcin Rusak flower-infused resin, glass and brass Flora lamp, about £4,600. Martha Sturdy resin Fluid Art stools, £2,010 each, and resin and steel Fluid Resin table, £9,650

Park’s compatriot Saerom Yoon has designed a series of tables (€2,800) also using pale pastel colours, but with a much sharper side to them. Inspired by crystals, he injects colour into the resin and then puts together pieces in contrasting hues to create tables. The effect draws attention to their hard edges, some of them rough, others entirely smooth. Each one takes about two weeks to make.

Wood and stone are the inspiration for Italian design studio Alcarol, which has been preserving pieces of both in resin to make enchanting stools. The Dolomyth stool (£3,700) features a hunk of rock from the Dolomites, lichens and moss clinging to it and now embalmed in clear resin that preserves them on its surface. Oak poles salvaged from the Venetian lagoon are encased in clear resin for the Abyss lamp (from £1,800), Chimenti table (from £7,750) and Anchor stool (£3,450), every grain and sign of ageing or change eminently visible and exquisitely preserved. Experimental, ethereal and ultimately very beautiful, they epitomise the inimitable allure of resin.

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