Chen Chen on Making Magic in Unexpected Ways

This week’s DMTV Milkshake guest is Chen Chen, co-founder of Brooklyn design studio Chen Chen & Kai Williams. With co-founder Kai Williams, Chen transforms humble materials into deeply unexpected shapes. The duo’s Cold Cut Coaster / Rugs (see below) is the clearest example with wood, resin-soaked fabric, and more overworked than objects that resemble nothing so much as a piece of highly processed meat.

In this week’s milkshake, Chen pulls questions from the duo’s Leg Bowl (making his second appearance in Milkshake after debuting with Carly Ayres) and walks us through the group’s process – for example, how a quotidian quartz stone is known to every hiker Mid-Atlantic is reworked into the glowing petals of her stone rose light. “It looks like a potato,” says Chen. “There’s nothing remarkable about it, but if you cut it open, you have this very nice kind of crystalline structure.”

Similar inventive products include a new and improved version of their spiral pen, plus a snake-like lighter holder and bottle opener made of stainless steel and brass, both inspired by the serpentine motifs seen at the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris.

Again, in this episode of Milkshake, Chen shares the best-designed object in his workshop, the position CCKW occupies in the spectrum of art design, and the fruits of a failed series of experiments working with water-cast aluminum, a process by which molten aluminum reacts chemically with water. “It was too difficult to control the process,” says Chen. “We spent months developing this and making our own tools. In the end it just didn’t work and we just let it sit for two years. “Chen also presents the unique happy ending made of marbles and molten zinc. “We’re never afraid to just throw it all away and start over,” says Chen. “Sometimes you just have to do it.”

Diana Ostrom, who has written for Wallpaper, Interior Design, ID, the Wall Street Journal, and other outlets, is also the author of Faraway Places, a newsletter about travel.

Milkshake, the first regular series from DMTV (Design Milk TV), shakes up the traditional interview format by asking designers, creatives, educators and industry professionals to randomly select interview questions from their favorite bowl or container. During their open discussions you will not only get an insight into their personal housewares collections, but also valuable insights into their work, their lives and their passions.

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