The Dwell 24: Esi Hutchinson

The Dwell 24: Esi Hutchinson

In North Carolina, Esi Hutchinson creates furniture that is deeply personal and deceptively simple.

"That bench is me," says Fairview, North Carolina–based designer Esi Hutchinson about Occurring Between Me, her surprisingly complex cherrywood seat. From above, the piece could be any other simple wood bench, but a peek below reveals a hectic clutter of crisscrossed supports on one side and two straight legs on the other.

She describes the duality between the chaotic (but still functional) forest of legs and the comparatively staid side as semiautobiographical. In fact, the 2020 RISD grad says this thread of self-reflection runs through all of her work. 

"When I’m working on my designs and different projects," Hutchinson says, "I’m just trying to become a better person—or the person I would like to be."

Read the Q&A below to learn more about Hutchinson.

Hometown: Fairview, North Carolina

Describe what you make in 140 characters. I craft objects that reflect my ever-evolving inner dialogue.

What's last thing you designed? I designed a tank top cut low in the front inspired by slits and loops. 

Do you have a daily creative ritual? I am compelled to work with my hands and make things. I would say I am constantly making and scheming up my next project in the meantime— whether that’s in furniture, paint, cloth, or jewelry.

How do you procrastinate? Probably by thinking more about the concept I'm working on. Sometimes I get put off about starting a new project because I’m scared—I don’t want to mess up and disappoint myself.

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? The fact that every iPhone nowadays no longer has an earphone jack blows mind! Big companies want to build upon their success and rapidly release new versions of what is likely already a good design. I think that the earphone jack is a prime example of a good design that just needed to be left alone.

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? Simon Porte Jacquemus, the 70-year-old man I play pickle-ball with, and my father.

What skill would you most like to learn? I would love to go to Italy and learn how to make shoes from leather.

What is your most treasured possession? My senses.

What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? When I was about seven or eight my dad’s sculptor friend, Bruce Johnson, was volunteering on a building project in the rainforest park where we lived in Suriname. He asked me if I wanted to make something with him. Even though he made most of the project with a chainsaw, I still got to use a grinder to scrape designs on to the four-legged, brownheart stool. I barely could even carry it.

What contemporary design trend do you despise? Epoxy resin tables.

Finish this statement: All design should... At least consider sustainability within every project.

What's in your dream house? My dream house would be a midcentury modern house, full of my friends art, a small pool, and a yard that leads into a forest that's large enough for a hike. And of course a studio with welding and wood machinery, a sewing machine, and a great sound system.

How do you want design to be different after we emerge from the pandemic? I think it would be helpful for the world if design were more sustainable physically and economically.

How can the design world be more inclusive? I grew up in a house filled with vibrant street art, and artist and designers who didn’t have very much and made things with what they had. There are artists and designers literally everywhere. Not just the people who have a websites or an Instagram.

What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? I wish they understood how much mental and physical effort goes into it. Some people pour their heart and soul into creating things and sometimes that isn’t healthy. It’s hard work.

You can learn more about Hutchinson's work by visiting her website and on Instagram.

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