Two Designers Make Passé Waste Cool Again

The Sarcophagus Console Table is made from hand-tiled ceramics. Photo courtesy Jeff Martin and Objective Gallery


August 15, 2023

As landfills become inundated with trash, designers Sam Klemick and Jeff Martin are among those experimenting with creative reuse, pulling materials from the waste stream. The new exhibition, Please Sit for the Alternate Ending at Objective Gallery, opening August 18, shows how junked items can be salvaged and transformed into high-end furniture.

When trends go out of style, landfills fill up with the discarded finishes that people were so hungry to slap in their homes. Driftwood floats from the kitchen and into the garbage bin, and neutral cotton becomes deadstock as maximalist fabrics invade the living room. Sam and Jeff find themselves drawn to these outdated motifs, and for their new bodies of work, challenge themselves with repurposing them into fresh furniture.

“The alternate ending is about experimentation in approach, pointing to the possibility of change, breaking the very well-cast mold of what is deemed ‘good’ and ‘bad’ design,” Chris Shao, co-founder of Objective Gallery, said, admiring the way the designers took what has become passé and made it chic all over again.

Sam favors Douglas fir lumber, cotton canvas, and jacquard fabric. She brings these materials together for her “Big Bell Armchair,” a roomy seat with dramatic arches shaped by the upholstery. The bleached lumber, sanded into a conical supports, matches these curved forms. The cushions are ruched in the center and their ties drape onto the floor, a detail that elevates a current trend in fast fashion. It also reminds one of the unsustainable amount of clothing being produced by companies like Shein, much of which goes straight into a landfill.

“Pinwheel Side Table” also makes use of reclaimed Douglas fir lumber. The rectangular table is scored with lines and a pinwheel pattern, which was inspired by Amish quilting and M.C. Escher’s drawings. By referencing such craftsmanship, Sam’s alternate ending is actually a revival of technical, handmade skill. She shows that these fading arts are not yet lost, and just like her materials, can be salvaged.

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Sarcophagus Sand-Molded (top) and Sarcophagus trunk (bottom.) The cabinet is made from EPS foam recovered from common shipping boxes, and the weight of sand to press large scale complex curved stoneware tile. Courtesy of Jeff Martin and Objective Gallery

In Jeff’s work, decay is more of an abstract prompt, which leads to his sarcophagus series. “Sarcophagus 11” and “Sarcophagus 12,” a side table and a cabinet, respectively, are made from hand-built stoneware and tiled into precise arrangements. Like Sam, Jeff incorporates traditional craft techniques. He scores the surface, pulls and tears the clay, and twists segments like a ribbon. By calling the pieces sarcophagus, he dares buyers to treat the tables like sacred objects, treasures that cannot be thrown back into the landfill. It’s not furniture to purchase on a whim, but a statement piece that is built to last into the next lifetime.

Though the two designers take very different approaches, they both thoughtfully consider the lifespan of their media and of the objects they create. They are rescuing discarded materials, reviving old trends, and honoring ancient crafts. Please Sit for the Alternate Ending saves surplus from becoming forgotten trash.