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Kenneth Nilson: How one Shape can Develop into Numerous Designs

Furniture designer Kenneth Nilson shares how he goes from a problem to a solution.

Kenneth Nilson

"Problem solving for me is often mechanical. How do I make hinges that work best for the doors I want to make? How do I make this piece modular so it can go to the 19th floor and not look like it was pieced together? How do I hide the fasteners? Aesthetically, my problem solving is usually centered around making an every day object (a floor lamp, for instance) look different from all the others that came before it without looking like I'm trying too hard.

The best way for me to solve a design problem is to think about it at the gym or while I'm swimming laps. When most of my mind is wrapped up in my form or my stroke rhythm or my breathing. It's at those times, coupled with the endorphins that problems seem to become solutions. When I'm sitting in front of a computer screen or a sketch book page waiting for ideas, it's like dancing without music. Like I'm counting out a beat instead of following one. Focusing on each step. As though I'm pushing my mind instead of following where it leads me. If I distract myself with exercise, the ideas seem to appear without a lot of effort.

I don't know if that analogy makes sense, I don't really dance."

When out of ideas, Nilson searches his sketch book to find drawings that has been forgotten or looks around in his apartment:

"I look around my apartment at the mismatched prototypes that pass for furniture and think about how to perfect them or what could bring the disparate pieces together. I also think about patterns and I sketch new ones that I can use as cabinet doors. My favorite pieces to work on are credenzas with laser cut patterns in metal on the doors. The more patterns I have, the better. I would hope one day that some of them might find their way onto wallpaper.”

There’s one certain shape that often comes out in Nilson’s line, follow how it has evolved into many different furniture:

"It started as the shape of a cross, like the Red Cross symbol. Five perfect squares forming a cross.

I took it into the third dimension making it five cubes and then I expanded it with two more cubes, making it a cross from every angle. There was something about this shape that intrigued me. It's simple geometry, it’s simple rhythm, it's solidity. Then I tilted it so it rested on a tripod of three points. It became a bookend.”


Then a candleholder.


Then a lamp base.

table lamp

Then sculptures of various sizes.

lasercut 2.0


Then I tried various finishes and stencils and patina colors.


It went from a cube, to a shape with all right angles, but now it wasn't based entirely on four sides. It had six cube protrusions. Three serving as a base and the other three extending up. Then I extended those protrusions into legs to form a table base.


I cut them at right angles to meet the floor and the underside of a table base. I now had a remarkably simple tripod, but with a more complicated geometry. It now formed two pyramids inverted onto each other. Now I had a system of threes that came out of all squares, cubes and right angles.

I also went back to the original shape and cut every corner off the cubes to make them triangles. Then I tried it with 18 protrusions instead of six. Coming up with a very complex orb that makes a wonderful pendant lamp.


So, in short, it's often a pursuit of a form or a finish that ends up with a practical application later. Or a cross-application. A laser cut door is sometimes adapted to be a lamp shade. Next it will probably be outdoor seating.

Related Article:

An Exercise of Faith: Kenneth Nilson on Being a Designer

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1 Comment

  1. ali says:

    I am new designer How do I join the exhibition design and design awards

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