Charlotte Kingsnorth Stitches Chairs into Sculptures

The designer challenges traditional techniques and industrial processes as she reimagines furniture.

charlotte kingsnorth puff around mundus

"Puff Around Mundus," 2021. Photos courtesy of Charlotte Kingsnorth


October 21, 2022

Charlotte Kingsnorth loves to manipulate shape and form. Her background as a scenic painter and interest in discovering new ways to make art has resulted in whimsical designs that transform the idea of furniture into contemporary sculpture.

“Visually I’m into inflated but controllable forms,” she says from her brutalist studio in central London. Charlotte often takes found objects, like an old chair, and gives them a new identity by introducing materials like foam punctured with metal, contorted with thread, or slashed with a knife. “Casting from soft to hard and vice-versa.”

In 2021 Charlotte was commissioned by Objective Gallery to produce a series of 10 new “hi!breed” chairs in Shanghai. The collection continues her work of finding old chair frames and pulling characters from each—giving them each a colorful, cartoonish personality.

Companion pieces “Puff Mundus” and “Puff Around Mundus” explore the idea of being enveloped. Mundus refers to the make of the frame—a steam-bent bistro chair made by Austrian company Mundus. She says the company produced simple, iconic bistro chairs that date back to 1859. “The puffer material worked well as a medium to explore ways I could play with positive and negative space around the frames.”

Chairs continue to be personified in the “hi!breed” collection. “I sculpt a form that bulges around and envelops the frame. I then hand-stitch textile around the body. Each chair becomes a character as well as holding a sense of life before, like an old soul.”

She says she nearly lost herself in the 10-chair project—in a good way. “It was enchanting to make so many new chairs back-to-back that became a real motley crew.”

“Squishy Thonet II,” 2021. This bench is sculpted from two old Thonet bentwood chairs engulfed in biomorphic upholstery. Acid green silk velvet encases the boulder-like form. The chairs have a solid internal structure joining them together.

She’s also inspired by nature. For “Lichen Console Table” she made a simple rock-like table form using sheet bronze with a rolled base and braised tabletop. “I often see things in nature as a still graphic and imagine how I would recreate it with layers of paint,” Charlotte says. “I’m sure this has something to do with my background in working as a scenic painter. With the lichen bronze collection I was interested in using lichen samples as a base point to inform how we worked the patina. I saw the bronze as a landscape in which to explore how I could recreate the colors and texture of the lichen. The patina worked as a really interesting medium for this as you can really build layers and depth.”

Velvet, bark, silk—Charlotte sees texture as a way to show or hide an identity. “I’m into creating texture and mixing textures. I like the idea of not really knowing what’s real anymore and letting your imagination take over, like the old fable of the emperor’s new clothes where the emperor walks naked while pretending to everyone he is wearing clothes,” she says. “I am interested in mixing up identities of things I find in nature with objects but also using honest materials and production methods.”

Charlotte has worked with everyone from the Bill Gates Foundation—making four Baba Felt chairs for their Seattle headquarters 10 years ago—to designing displays for Fendi’s smaller items like belts and scarves. Most recently she won an Arts Council grant to do a three-month residency at the European Ceramic Workcentre in The Netherlands, working on a series of soft-looking ceramics, a continuation of her interest in foamy materiality.

A version of this article originally appeared in Sixtysix Issue 09 with the headline “Charlotte Kingsnorth.” Subscribe today.