The Dwell 24: Wooj

Wooj is a collection of accessible, ecologically responsibile home goods designed and manufactured in Brooklyn, New York.

Sean Kim didn’t start making furniture in the same way many others do. The Brooklyn designer was a programmer for nearly four years before he started tinkering with laser cutters and 3D printers. "I liked to watch the process of making—it was like magic," Kim says.

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Working with these tools inspired Kim to go back to school and study industrial design at Pratt. After graduating earlier this year, he started his own office: Wooj. 

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Kim hasn’t left his former life completely behind, though. He combines digital design tools with new materials like bioplastics derived from corn and technology like 3D printing to make his line of clocks, tables, knife racks, and lighting affordable for everyone. "Design within actual reach," he calls it. 

"There shouldn’t be a huge amount of exclusivity in design—it should pull in as many people as possible."

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Read the Q&A with Kim below to learn why he thinks procrastination isn’t always a bad thing and more. 

Hometown: Newport Beach, California

Describe what you make in 140 characters. I design and manufacture affordable home goods that can be produced using 3D printers.

What's the last thing you designed? I am currently working on a new lamp, which is inspired by the forms that cloths can take when they are draped over various shapes. Right now I’m working on how to transition from the lampshade (which is the cloth form) to the base and figuring out the most effective way the two should be attached.

Do you have a daily creative ritual? I try to meditate and write my thoughts out first thing in the morning. What I'm working on now is actually just trying to slow down so that I'm not trying to do a million things at once, something I find quite detrimental to deep thought and elegant concepts.

How do you procrastinate? I have a (sometimes) horrible tendency to try to be productive in directions that are not actually relevant to what I should be doing at the time. Sometimes it results in really amazing projects—the Wavy Lamp being one of those "productive procrastinations"—but most of the time it results in me running around in circles feeling "productive" without actually accomplishing anything.

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? I would like to do a humane redesign of cell phones such that they return to their original role as a tool rather than an all-consuming, addictive, soul-crushing device. (I have a problem managing my phone usage, clearly.)

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? Enzo Mari, Victor Papanek, Walter Segal, Eileen Gray, Anni Albers, and Børge Mogenson. 

What skill would you most like to learn? I am currently taking drawing lessons. I am insanely jealous of people who can quickly sketch out their ideas with a minimum of fuss and without having to work in software to get their ideas out. I'm working on getting there, but I have serious doubts about it happening any time in the next three years.

What is your most treasured possession? It's probably so lame, and maybe not really my most "treasured possession," but I don't know what I would do without my digital calipers. I use them almost every day to measure things because my sense of scale is really underdeveloped for a designer. Alternatively, it is my desk, which I designed for myself. I abuse it by hammering things directly on top of it and using it as a workbench (it's not) but it has held up now for three years and was the first piece of "real furniture" that I made.

What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? Honestly I think it was a program called KidPix, which was basically Photoshop for kids. You were able to create these wild scenes, write all over them, and print them out. I remember feeling this enormous sense of power having created a newsletter that I printed out and sent to all my family (I also charged everyone like a dollar for the privilege of receiving said newsletter.)

What contemporary design trend do you despise? Design that embraces the use of expensive material as the predominant feature of the work really bothers me. I think opulence for opulence's sake is pretty gross, given the state of the world at the moment.

Finish this statement: All design should... fulfill a deep need or desire in the person who it is designed for.

What's in your dream house? As a Brooklyn resident, I am going to have to say: space. At the moment, my entire life is crammed around me and things that shouldn't be bleeding into each other really are. Sometimes some of my projects will end up in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom, so I never really get a mental break from what I'm working on. I think having interstitial space is super important, where there is a transition from one mental sphere to another.

How do you want design to be different after we emerge from the pandemic? I think for many people the pandemic made clear some of their priorities. I saw that an unprecedented amount of small businesses were started that were effectively passion projects, as people reprioritized what they wanted to be doing with their time—this is effectively how Wooj was started. I would like to see more small design companies enter the field and also maintain a sense of work/life balance instead of the typical designer grind.

How can the design world be more inclusive? Design education is horrifically expensive and pretty much out of reach for most people. That includes undergraduate and graduate education, and the scaffolding that a young person might require to have their interest in design be recognized and supported. I think that the design community needs to support funding and grants for people who have an interest in design to pursue it.

What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? A very large amount of what designers say is absolute hand-wavy garbage and for the most part we are not to be trusted. We're desire creators and are probably very responsible for the amount of waste that society produces.

You can learn more about Wooj by visiting the studio’s website or on Instagram.

Gabrielle Golenda
I am from the Mile-High City, Denver, Colorado (where my first-ever published work was the winning poem in the Denver Post’s rodeo-themed haiku contest).




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