A manufacturer in demand for poetic and quirky furniture
Maybe Kim’s sense of insecurity owes something to the fact that he’s an immigrant. He grew up in Seoul, where his parents still live; her father is a minister of Won Buddhism, a twentieth-century Korean reform variant of religion, and her mother is an artist and teacher. As a teenager, Kim still drew and, when he arrived at Washington University, he opted for a double major in architecture and painting and drawing – a split between practicality and creativity. He followed that up with a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia, and soon after graduating he landed the job with Giancarlo Valle.
But the transition from an academic setting to a commercial setting was a somewhat rude wake-up call. “[In academia] it was seeing everything in the world through the prism of architecture and design as a solution, which is a very idealistic approach, ”says Kim. “You had to justify every decision. In a commercial studio, on the other hand, “it becomes a matter of financial considerations, so if you want to make something interesting, you have to sell it.” And he was annoyed at the icy pace of architectural projects in a large corporation: “When I have an idea, I can’t wait to see it, so I kind of rush to it.
The pandemic would offer Kim an opening to develop his own practice, which has continued to evolve. He had been painting seriously since college, but after moving to an apartment with a studio in the basement, he began to experiment with furniture design. With his office hours necessarily shortened, he was spending more time in his studio, making more substantial pieces and posting them on Instagram. His first clients were friends, then friends of friends until, finally, strangers approached him on commissions. Last summer, barely a year after starting to make furniture in earnest, he made a solo installation at the Marta Gallery in Los Angeles, designing an entire room and exhibiting two of his most whimsical pieces: the Freud chair, in the form of the seat of the famous psychoanalyst; and the Matisse desk, with its characteristic voluptuous frame inspired by the shapes of the famous cut-out works of the French artist.
After renting her current studio to create a piece for Marta’s show, Kim knew something had to give; he just didn’t have enough time to work at Giancarlo Valle and keep up with all the orders for his own designs. So he decided to take the plunge and quit his job. The decision may sound reckless, but in Kim’s account there is a method to her inspired madness, a feeling that the wheel ends up coming full circle: “If I can create my own voice on a smaller scale, my thinking is that eventually I should be able to return to architecture and a spatial practice.
So far, the smaller scale is paying off. In addition to her lyrical lamps, Kim has created a series of rough, subtly asymmetrical wooden benches and eccentrically charming bunny-ear fiberglass chairs. Regardless of the material, Kim considers each piece to be a unique work of art – when he works with wood, “they’re all kinds of sculptures in a way because I sculpt them”, and with the fiberglass pieces , “There is no mold that allows me to repeat the shape; every time I build them, they’ll come out differently.
Kim admits he found himself in an unfamiliar place: with time and space at his disposal. Previously, he felt that he had no margin for error when it came to making a work, and his creative spontaneity suffered as a result. “I drew a lot more and spent a lot of time developing something,” he says. Now, “I have the space and the gear sitting down, so I can just go.” He also sees his new expansive relationship to time reflected in his work, something that can be felt in the pieces themselves. “Every grain of time that went into making [of an object], I want to be able to show it, ”he says. “When people talk about patina, you see layers of weather. This is how you can have a conversation with an object: you can ask for its story and it can respond to you in a certain way.
Naz Riahi contributed reporting.