Keep Your Eye On: Brooklyn Designer Katie Stout

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By Alex Ronan
The 26-year-old designer creates otherworldly rugs and chairs that call to mind stuffed animals.

Katie Stout, newly 26, was the last person from her class to register for the furniture department at RISD ("seriously, I was two months past the deadline") but she’s quickly found success in Brooklyn, where she now lives and works. Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard commissioned Stout’s furniture for his Whitney Biennial installation; a curtain she co-created with Kate Fox appeared on the cover of New York’s design issue in 2013; she’s repped by Johnson Trading Gallery, and her quietly subversive designs garnered her a spot on Ellen’s Design Challenge, a reality TV competition hosted by DeGeneres herself (which also features Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron as a judge).

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Stout uses a traditional braided rug technique to create a series of 3D wonders.

As a child, Stout convinced her parents to repaint the kitchen bright orange. In college, she installed an eight-foot trampoline in the loft she shared with friends. "I’ve always been interested in finding ways to radically reconfigure a space," Stout says, adding, "these days, that energy is directed at skewing traditional forms or reimagining the possibility of various materials." Her braided rugs bulge upwards; light from pinched clay lamps emerges from what Stout describes as the feet. Her series of stuffed chairs is available through Project No. 8 and she’s currently working to turn paper pulp into a viable material for furniture.

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“I really liked the idea of rug you can lean against; it makes the room into more a landscape.” Pictured here is an eye rug in both a 2-D and 3-D version.

Stout often collaborates with friends, imbuing each piece with a slightly nonsensical but aggressively present sense of personality. When making lamps with Sean Gerstley, they often end up referring to the pieces as he’s and she’s. Stout and  Zev Schwartz refer to the stuffed chairs they co-designed as grumpy uncles and disgruntled kids. She calls her aesthetic naïve pop, but to her, anything is better than the term 'whimsical.' As Stout explains, "It’s a default word that undermines all of the thought and consideration that went into the making of something, even if the piece is light hearted. Maybe I should just call it thoughtful-and-smart-without-taking-itself-too-seriously."

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Stout worked with Sean Gerstley on a series of pinched clay lamps.

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Lamp made with Sean Gerstley. “I completely lack Sean’s intuitive understanding of ceramics, but he was always very polite about it. He’d be like, ‘you’re pinches look so…aggressive.’ I’m better with the colors and coming up with the shapes. I can basically turn any form into a lamp at this point.”

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Chair made with Zev Schwartz. “I had this old sweater and turned it into a little stuffed animal chair with Zev’s help. But I couldn't stop there. I made a large one, a really sad one, and some teeny tiny ones. I’m hoping to do an entire set of stuffed furniture—dressers, beds, everything.”

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Stout’s wall mounted stuffed Sad Chair is currently showing at Open Gallery in Portland.

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Pictured is one of Stout’s three-dimensional braided rugs and a pinched clay hanging light made with Sean Gerstley. Stout has also created a number of digitally printed curtains in collaboration with Kate Fox. “I want my work to make people happy,” she says.

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