Storyboard: Nolen Niu

A jones for furniture

I like to tell people that I “discovered” furniture when I first visited Europe.

Of course, there’s a considerable divergence between American and European design. American furniture places a great deal of emphasis on comfort and practicality, whereas Europeans are punch-drunk on the radical aesthetic possibilities of the medium.

Today, furniture as self-expression is evolving at a rapid rate. I often find myself questioning the exact ways in which furniture fits into our day-to-day lives. Does it transport us? Help us decompress or disconnect?

The competitive nature of the furniture market was one of the primary driving factors that compelled me to travel to Europe. I was young, taking courses in Milan and hoping to broaden my horizons. That one month in Milan I was exposed to countless cutting-edge Italian brands. I found myself wondering if there was some kind of creative equivalent that I could seek out once I was back in the states.

ArtCenter prepared me for the early stages of this demanding and incredible journey. Here, finally, was a place where everything had a designer’s touch to it. It was more than simply wanting to be a part of it – I had to be a part of it.

Immediately after seeing ArtCenter’s number one ranking in the Peterson’s Guide, I called the school’s admissions office. I was traveling to Baltimore and the admissions counselor politely requested that I bring my portfolio with me. We met the next day. She was an eloquent and thoughtful woman who suggested that I consider taking my talents to this buzzed-about school in the hills of Pasadena. I was attending school somewhere else at the time, but alas, the universe was giving me signs. Not long afterward, I packed my bags and charted a course for ArtCenter.

I traveled out to L.A. and immediately started taking advantage of ArtCenter’s night courses. One of the first things I had to do was beef up my portfolio. Seeing what those ArtCenter students were capable of blew my mind and inspired me to up my game. They were fashioning products that looked as though they could be distributed by top-tier, professional outlets. I decided that if I were ever going to make the leap into being a capital-D designer, it would be here, at this special place.

All of which brings me back to furniture, which is my calling, my daily inspiration and my life’s work. For me, a big part of this has to do with the social function of furniture. It’s there whether you’re hosting your friends, having a family get-together, or just hanging out by yourself. Furniture is more than just a stylish vessel for leisure. It can reveal depths and details about who you are as a person. Every seam in the fabric matters, and none of it is accidental.

Furniture is something we sometimes take for granted in our daily lives. ArtCenter taught me that there is an art to furniture. The school also instilled in me a sense of how to translate personality through design. The details of a piece of furniture – vivid colors, a matching pattern, etc. – can reveal the intricacies of the owner’s personality. Is the layout neat? Sloppy? Is the palette monochromatic? The answers, in almost every case, will be varied and different. Such is the beauty of this thing we call design.

Nolen Niu
BS 99 Product Design
Nolen Niu, Inc.

Furniture is more than just a stylish vessel for leisure. It can reveal depths and details about who you are as a person.

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