I went to art school because I love the tactile experience of creating projects in three dimensions. During my education at Rhode Island School of Design, I had ample opportunities to make sculptures, prototypes, and furniture exploring forms in metal, stone, and wood. Once I was out in the world working as a designer, opportunities for that hands-on work that I really loved came less and less. Yet, I found that I craved what it seemed I’d lost, and I looked for ways to pull it back into my design process.
Now, after 30 years in business, I wanted to write about my experience with a material that has always drawn me back into working in a very intimate, hands-on way—molded plywood.
Catalano Design’s first opportunity to work with molded plywood came in 1999 on a project that turned into the Capelli Stool, our best-known piece of furniture.
At the time, we were designing many varieties of audio speakers: in-wall, floor-standing, and bookshelf. The work involved months of meticulous coordination with our client’s engineers and as this work came to a close, we needed a change. The Asahikawa wood furniture competition caught my attention. In addition to the shift in subject matter, we also decided to create a fundamentally different way of working. Typically, we begin with a client brief that describes the goals for the end product. But here, our only constraint was working with molded plywood with no expectation for the outcome. Inspired by the molded plywood techniques developed by Charles and Ray Eames and the products they designed for Herman Miller, we wanted to experiment with and explore the material for ourselves.
Right away, molded plywood—which we’d never worked in before—lent itself to lightweight, strong, sculptural elements, and we homed in on these characteristics to drive our design development. Designing in this way was liberating because we were our own client, challenging because we fabricated the prototypes ourselves, and richly rewarding as we could experiment with the molded plywood process along the way.