Amid a collection of metal-heavy lighting and decorative objects, a stool more akin to an art installation breaks the mold with its distinct sense of sculptural abstraction at this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. Accented with red silicone tubes and a patinated brass bottom, industry insiders visiting Chicago-based designer Christopher Gentner’s booth were bewildered by the composition of his creation. “People aren’t really sure what it is,” says Gentner. “Is it a sculpture or a stool? The one question I always get asked is, ‘Can I sit on it?’”
While the stool disguised as sculpture may not appear like a traditional resting place, it’s purely functional. The rubber tubing — which the designer originally used to build a knock box for his espresso maker — moves with the seat’s inhabitant. “The second comment I receive is, ‘Oh, it’s actually really comfortable.’”
The intersection between art and functional design is a concept that Gentner explores with his eponymous collection of furnishings. After earning his BFA in metalsmithing from the Cleveland Institute of Art, the designer moved to Chicago to work under iconic sculptor Richard Hunt. Slowly, Gentner’s sculptures transitioned into design pieces.
“I began to develop a real interest in functional pieces as opposed to abstract works that were art for art’s sake,” he says. “The pieces were still generated out the same fine art discovery, but they eventually moved towards being purely practical.”
Not satisfied with crafting pieces of furniture only on occasion, Gentner committed to creating a comprehensive collection. In 2013, he debuted a lineup of lighting, furniture, and accessories that showcased his metal mastery. His first piece, the Baltic table, is handcrafted out of solid bronze and highlights its form with waterfall edges and slices of negative space.
Meanwhile, other items, such as the Swinging drink table, were born out of everyday interactions. The unusual tabletop was conceptualized after Gentner built a hammock-like structure to keep ants out of his cat’s food bowl. “That’s a really great example of the constant flow of ideas that come into my brain,” he says. “One of the criticisms I encountered early on was that my line wasn’t cohesive with a specific theme running through it. But I think as I added more pieces to the collection, it began to make more sense: It’s an ad hoc aesthetic that results from what I’m interested in making in the moment.”
The evolution of Gentner’s work still isn’t clearly defined by a particular style, but his intrigue with a design’s purpose is clearly expressed in each piece. “I see potential in everything, which is one of the reasons I’m drawn to the functionality of my work.”