The Dwell 24: Not Work Related

Chicago native Sarah Hussaini is gaining a following for her geometric and colorful household ceramics.
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In 2016, Sarah Hussaini started throwing pots to combat a major case of burnout. The designer, who has a master’s in architecture from Columbia University, had landed a job at a noted architecture office but became worn down by the long hours and dearth of support. So she began making whimsical stoneware mugs and planters to do "something just for myself," Hussaini says.

That pastime snowballed into a full-fledged business (fittingly dubbed Not Work Related) with an adoring fan base and a routinely sold-out e-store. Her wares, while colorful and carefree, exhibit the rigor of her design training in their geometries and materials.

The Shape Planters by Not Work Related

The Shape Mugs by Not Work Related

She hopes eventually to teach the craft to kids, particularly those who, like herself, are from communities of color. "Maybe they will become designers or ceramicists or artists," she muses. "Or maybe they’ll become something else."

Below, learn who Hussaini considers her design heroes and read more of her responses to our Q&A.

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Describe what you make in 140 characters. Not Work Related balances geometry and color to create a playful approach to household ceramics.

What's the last thing you designed? I designed a set of slow-feed dog bowls for a wiener dog startup. The shapes on the inside of each bowl were inspired by the three types of dachshunds.

Do you have a daily creative ritual? I don't have plumbing in my studio, so my daily morning ritual is dragging a five gallon bucket of water to the slop sink in the hallway. It's not fun, but it's become a meditative and repetitive process that I do each day when I walk in.

The Stripe Tumblers by Not Work Related

Other planter and tumbler designs by Not Work Related

How do you procrastinate? I have trouble focusing in a cluttered space, so to satisfy the desire of productivity (while also not working), I like to put things away. It's not the work I'm supposed to be doing, but it feels better than scrolling on my phone!

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? Basic food packaging. It's FULL of plastic. If milk can be sold in cardboard, then why are all cereals, yogurts, and even containers of spinach wrapped in plastic. I've realized that all my trash is basically the wrapping around food products and there has to be a better solution.

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? Ettore Sottsass and Marcel Breuer.

What skill would you most like to learn? How to compartmentalize! My ceramics business bleeds into all other aspects of my life. Regardless of if I'm trying to negotiate a difficult contact or deciding whether to take on a project, I want to be able to leave that pressure at the studio. I've always been the type of person that needs to finish all my work in order to clear my head. This works with homework; it doesn't work when you're running multiple projects on multiple deadlines.

What is your most treasured possession? Sadly, it's probably my iPhone. But backup object is my Rollo label printer. After years of cutting labels out of printer paper and taping them on packages, getting a label printer changed my life.

What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? My grandma was a seamstress, she had little books full of clothing mockups and taught me to make little flowers with thread. She made a lot of my clothing as a child since I was the first grandchild. My parents are not creatively inclined, so I probably didn't re-encounter design until I was in high school.

What contemporary design trend do you despise? The trend of putting boobs on objects.

Finish this statement: All design better than what came before it.

What’s in your dream house? My dream house is a square with a courtyard removed from the center, creating a donut. I also wouldn't complain if the courtyard had a swimming pool.

Did you pick up any new hobbies or learn a new skill while in quarantine? What was it? I had a pasta maker for 2 years—a friend even borrowed it and I had still never opened it myself. I finally cracked it open, I made pasta twice in the beginning of quarantine and then never found the time again.

The Grid Mug by Not Work Related

How do you think the pandemic will affect residential design in the future? What about workplace or commercial design? There will be a pressure on residential design to encompass more of our lives. People who came home only to sleep are now exclusively at home; they will put much more value on what they surround themselves with in their homes and how their homes function. As far as workplace design or companies that work exclusively in the corporate/office space, they might never be the same.

How can the design world be more inclusive? Sourcing ethical products is critical: If your work is being made overseas, those artisans deserve fair pay and to be considered for their irreplaceable role in your profits/success.

What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? You get what you pay for!

You can learn more about Hussaini by visiting the Not Work Related website or on Instagram. 

The Dwell 24 2020

Return to The Dwell 24 homepage and check out other emerging designers.   

The Design Life: What Inspires This Year’s Dwell 24?


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