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Spotlight on Trailblazing Female Designers: Part 1
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Today, March 8th, we’re celebrating International Women’s Day and the monthlong event of Women’s History Month by highlighting a few standout female designers. These individuals are not only following in the tracks of those before them, they’re also forging ahead to lead the next generation of creatives. To mark the occasion, we’re partnering with the Female Design Council (FDC) for the third year (2020, 2021) to put all eyes on their talents. Founded in 2016 by kinder MODERN founder Lora Appleton, the Female Design Council was launched as a platform to support female-identifying designers and artists within the design industry. We’re sharing four women who are making their own paths, testing the limits of materials, as well as themselves.

light-skinned female with dark hair examining a snake

Erica Sellers \\\ Photo: John Rohrer

1. Erica Sellers of Studio S II

Born and bred in New York City, multi-disciplinary designer, sculptor, and self-described mad scientist Erica Sellers is co-founder of Studio S II (ess-TOO), a product and interior design studio based in Brooklyn. Her work is playful, teetering on the edge of technology while grounding itself in fine craftsmanship, material, concept, and a blend of industrial and organic. The interplay can be seen in the mix of analog and digital processes Erica uses to visualize data and sound for furniture works. Currently on HBO Max, you can catch a glimpse into her artistic process as she competes in furniture design challenges on “Ellen’s Next Great Designer.”

black wood pepper mill

Coupled Salt + Pepper Mills, 2021, Machined aluminum matte finished or blackened, turned Walnut and Maple. CrushGrind® mechanism slotted in the internal cavity. All wood turned mills are finished with food-grade butcher block oil. \\\ Photo: Midge Wattles \\\ Inspired by mid-century Danish design, the Coupled Salt and Pepper Mills resemble wood-turned objects and reimagine them in new and classic materials. Since salt and pepper go hand in hand, the forms nest into one another, echoing their function. We didn’t want to define which one was supposed to be Salt or Pepper, leaving that decision to be made by the customer to fit their own desires.

dark green and tan abstract vessel with flat top

Dark Matter – Camo, 2020, Cast gypsum, custom pigments, sealant \\\ Photo courtesy of Studio S II \\\ For sound to exist, vibrations of atoms and molecules must travel through a medium such as air or water. Since molecules do not exist in vast regions of the universe, sound cannot travel through deep space. This has not stopped scientists at NASA from using audio clips to recognize subtle differences in how stars travel and how the sun’s magnetic field fluctuates. This procedure, known as sonification, is recognized among heliophysicists, astrophysicists, and doctors. Sonification is used to visualize sound data, such as the beep from a heart rate monitor, a door bell ringing, or in this case, when stars come into contact with a black hole. I converted ‘Boom’, an audio clip from NASA’s public domain, into a visual soundscape. I then further abstracted ‘Boom’ by manipulating it into shapes and surface textures for “Dark Matter”. You can listen to ‘Boom’ that inspired the form HERE.

resin table with irregular shaped legs

Solar Flare, 2020, Cast resin and fumed glass, mirror \\\ Photo: John Rohrer \\\ For sound to exist, vibrations of atoms and molecules must travel through a medium such as air or water. Since molecules do not exist in vast regions of the universe, sound cannot travel through deep space. This has not stopped scientists at NASA from using audio clips to recognize subtle differences in how stars travel and how the sun’s magnetic field fluctuates. This procedure, known as sonification, is recognized among heliophysicists, astrophysicists, and doctors. Sonification is used to visualize sound data, such as the beep from a heart rate monitor, a door bell ringing, or in this case, when stars come into contact with a black hole. I converted ‘Sun Sonification’, an audio clip from NASA’s public domain, into a visual soundscape. I then further abstracted ‘Sun Sonification’ by manipulating it into shapes and surface textures for “Solar Flare”. You can listen to ‘Sun Sonification’ that inspired the form HERE.

black and white portrait of light-skinned woman with long hair wearing a turtleneck

Jessica Iwaniec

2. Jessica Iwaniec of Pembrooke & Ives

Jessica Iwaniec’s first step in her career was in the fashion and editorial world of Conde Nast. Eventually she moved onto interior design, assisting on design projects and opening a design showroom with Tamara Magel. Jessica’s design style follows a holistic approach to creating spaces with a focus on comfort, craft, and a modern aesthetic. Today, she’s Design Director at Pembrooke & Ives. There, Jessica leads a team creating designs for interior architecture and custom furniture, and works with clients, contractors, and vendors to make concepts come to life.

wide angle image of living space with coffee table, armchairs, and several light fixtures

The whimsical and eclectic apartment on New York’s Upper East Side is layered with both vintage and contemporary pieces of design paired with the client’s collection of modern art. \\\ Photo: Genevieve Garruppo

bedroom with two beds dressed in light colors and abstract light fixture

A children’s room in an Upper West Side Pre-War apartment that maximizes the space with a custom bed with an integrated side table and a playful ceiling fixture by Doug Johnson. \\\ Photo: Genevieve Garruppo

dining space with dark dining table, dining chairs, chandelier, and art

This Tribeca dining room features paintings by Liu Ye and Yoshimoto Nara, a sculptural chandelier by Frederick Molenschot and a custom dining table by Pembrooke & Ives. \\\ Photo: Genevieve Garruppo

light-skinned woman with dark hair pulled back wearing a button down black shirt

Kelly Harris Smith

3. Kelly Harris Smith

Kelly Harris Smith is a designer, creative director, and entrepreneur who specializes in natural and sustainable materials for commercial and residential interior design. A co-founder of FilzFelt (acquired by Knoll, Inc. in 2011), her award-winning designs stand out for their pattern, color, and functionality. Kelly is also the founder of Minni, a community creative space in Boston that provides art and design education to young children. She was awarded Product Designer Award at Interior Design’s HiP 2020 and Emerging Product Designer Award at NYCxDesign in 2018. Pick up Kelly’s book, Universal Principles of Interior Design, that explores 100 concepts and guidelines critical to a successful visualization and application of interior design. Check out Kelly Harris Smith’s throw blankets in the Design Milk Shop here!

legs in black shoes and pants sitting on a blue pouf

Button Ottomans – coming to market this year

burnt orange and white hanging mural

FilzFelt Merge Hanging Panel

brown-skinned woman wearing dark jumpsuit over short sleeve white t-shirt sitting on a stool

Pooja Pawaskar \\\ Photo: Kait Labbate

4. Pooja Pawaskar of Whirl & Whittle

Indian-born, Canadian-based Pooja Pawaskar, founder of Whirl & Whittle, embraces the imperfections in her work. Pooja’s designs draw from personal experiences and the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which favors imperfection and impermanence over flawlessness. For her first collection, Your Scars Are Beautiful, she hand-turned woods with burls and spalting into vessels that highlight the flaws. Pooja’s second collection, Ode to her Body, paid homage to changing female bodies. In November 2021, she introduced her first furniture collection – Not whole, but complete.

Your Scars Are Beautiful Collection \\\ Photo: Kait Labbate

collection of vases perched on a table and wall ledge

Selection of vases \\\ Photo Kait Labbate

round mirror reflecting a person

Side By Side Mirror \\\ Photo: Kait Labbate

Stay tuned for Part 2 and to read more from our Women’s History Month coverage, click here!

Kelly Beall is senior editor at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based graphic designer and writer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, and enjoys sharing her finds with others. When undistracted by great art and design, she can be found making a mess in the kitchen, consuming as much information as possible, or on the couch with her three pets. Find her @designcrush on social.