The designer Kim Markel only launched her studio in 2016, but her work is already instantly recognizable, the rare deserving subject of the word iconic. Her “Glow” collection is a series of ethereal chairs, stools, and small tables that look like captured rainbows or the light glinting off a window in the dawn or sunset. She created a unique process for fabricating the pieces that she explained to ARTnews below.
After the success of the Glow pieces, Markel has turned toward smaller-scale sculptures that are less oriented toward function. Her latest pieces are vases decorated in pastel-hued flowers and mirror compositions with iridescent blooms. For Markel, inspiration always comes from materials first and foremost, though the end result is unabashedly elegant. The Glow series range from $1,000 to $3,000 and are available on the designer’s website.
The iridescent material of your furniture is so fascinating. How do you create it and what causes the glowing effect?
The composite used in these pieces contains a mix of post-industrial and post-consumer resins, depending on what I can source at the time. I spent about a year looking for recycled material with certain properties — I wanted a certain refractive index for clarity, high density and good stability. The mix I currently use includes ground eyeglass lense, from pucks of material that were produced without the optical clarity necessary for vision, but perfectly fine otherwise. It also includes transition lenses — the lenses that darken in sunlight — they appear like iridescent sparks and still change colors when in direct sunlight, even after being processed.
What is your fabrication process for the furniture?
The glow pieces all start out as sculptures. I used clay built over armatures to form the shape. When I’m content enough, I create molds of those shapes. The mold is used to cast a composite containing the recycled resins. The filled mold goes into an autoclave so the composite can bond together under heat and pressure. The entire thing is cooled, we remove it from the mold, and then sand out any rough spots and polish it to a satin-smooth finish. There’s so much hand work involved, and the content of the composite always kind of differs, so the pieces all come out a little different.
Design wasn’t always your career. What made you move into this new field?
I worked in public policy for years, but I grew up making things. My dad was a builder and I made the first pieces in the glow collection after he passed away. The grief was overwhelming and this was an attempt to recapture the way I saw the world as a kid — where objects always held a little bit of magic. I wanted to fill my apartment with objects that would help me see the world that way. I hadn’t planned on working in furniture design, but it’s been a rewarding journey and I’ve been so grateful for it.
After the Glow series, what have you been working on? It looks like you’re moving into more sculptural accessories rather than just furniture.
The Glow furniture takes an exceptionally long time to move from daydream to final piece. It’s very process driven. I love process but lately I’ve been wanting to work in a more immediate way. The mirrors and vases I’m making allow me to be more experimental in form and material. They don’t need to withstand the same physical forces furniture demands and the materials I’m using are more immediate. I can sculpt in the final material and see it right away.
What’s inspiring you with these new accessories?
The furniture collection was inspired by the sort of gauziness of childhood memories. It’s full of novelty for the shapes and textures that captivated me as a kid. I wanted to find a place for them in an adult world. The pandemic had me searching for a type of visual escapism. I spent a lot of time looking at images of heavily ornamented Rococo churches and intricate Meissen porcelain — they’re like worlds in themselves.
Materials-wise, I’ve become completely enchanted with historic materials that fell out of favor. Before man had an intricate understanding of chemistry he had an innate one and was still able to build with materials that stood the test of time. The materials I’m currently using are based on recipes and formulas from archives hundreds to thousands of years old. I’m one of those people who feel like objects hold their own kind of spirit and I’m always searching for that alchemy of shape and material.
For more conversations with artists about process and materials, explore our How I Made This archive.