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‘Blossom’ wins 11th annual Wilsonart Chair Design Competition

Competition challenged Appalachian State University students to design chairs inspired by their personal interpretation of regionalism in North Carolina.

NEW YORK—A visually arresting collection of one-of-a-kind chairs – each conceived and built with Wilsonart® Laminate by senior industrial design majors at Appalachian State University – will be showcased at the 2015 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), May 16-19 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.

View larger imageSamantha Lilly’s chair design, “Blossom,” won the 11th annual Wilsonart Chair Design Competition. (Photos courtesy of commercial photographer professor David Crosby and Wilsonart)View larger imageView larger imageView larger imageLyndsie White’s design titled “Hem Chair” was selected runner-up in the chair design competition. (Photos courtesy of commercial photographer professor David Crosby and Wilsonart)View larger image

The iconic chairs are the result of Wilsonart® Challenges, a competition in its 11th year that engages students in creating chairs to celebrate the richness of laminate surfacing materials without the restraints of mass production. This year’s competition celebrated the beauty, culture and history of the Appalachian region of North Carolina.

Samantha Lilly’s “Blossom” was chosen as the competition’s winning design. Her chair, inspired by the state flower, will be displayed at the Wilsonart® booth at ICFF along with the runner-up and five other student designs.

“Nature has always been a major part in my life and has been my greatest inspiration. I wanted to showcase the way our remarkable flora in the region makes me feel,” Lilly said of her design. “There is one common trend that we see all over the region and that is the beautiful, blooming dogwood tree. It is our state flower and is found everywhere from the mountains to the seas of North Carolina.”

Lilly’s design incorporated marquetry, or an inlay technique, using Wilsonart® Laminate that was laser cut into the wood substrate.

“I wanted to showcase the laminate in a way it has never been seen before so I decided to incorporate marquetry into my chair. Persian cherry and antique white laminate was laser cut and inlaid onto the wood substrate,” she said. “When sitting in my chair, I want you to feel as though you are being immersed in nature. I want to bring you back to childhood when a typical day consisted of getting lost in the woods and make-believing about all the magic that exists in the various flowers and trees.”

Creating a chair that could be mass produced was not the goal of the competition, according to Richard Prisco, a professor in the industrial design program. “I would say the hardest thing for the students to do was put everything that they have learned in the past aside, because the chair had to be iconic and ‘live’ in a photograph. They were in a sense told to ignore production ergonomics and everything that a designer would think about when designing a chair,” he said.

Since the competition was concept driven, it helped students explore their creativity, Prisco said. “They had to research, understand and explore their concept, where in the past, their designs have been demographic and market needs driven.”

“We continue to be amazed each year with how these students follow their imaginations, create a wide range of concepts relevant to the theme, and develop designs that highlight the innovative uses of laminate,” said Natalia Smith, design manager for Wilsonart. “The elegant lines and curves of ‘Blossom’ characterize the Appalachian region in a way that allows us all to feel connected to this distinct culture. That unique power of design is what we hope to uncover through this competition.”

Lyndsie White was named runner up in the competition for her “Hem” chair that “envelops you like the mountains do.” Her design was inspired by the people of Appalachia, she said.

“The Appalachian people are enveloped by the mountains themselves. I want my chair to portray aspects of this human experience. Along with the safety of a ridge to lean on for protection, my chair is designed to sweep around your body, much like the woods surround us,” she said.

A structure inspired White’s design. “I wanted to represent in my chair an old house that is situated in the corner of 300 acres of farmland. The details of the siding of the wood and the contrasting colors of the whole farmhouse against the countryside painted a crumbling picture of isolation and age,” she said.

The students expect that having their work showcased at ICFF will help kick-start their design careers. “It’s an opportunity to meet people working in the industry, make connections, and secure internships with furniture companies,” Rider Evans said, who has secured an internship with Herman Miller manufacturing.

Other students who created work for the design challenge are:

  • Byron Dollar – “Looming,” inspired by the textile loom
  • Rider Evans – “Triad,” inspired by Buckminster Fuller and Black Mountain College
  • John Walters – “Trek,” inspired by outdoor recreation and camping
  • Alexander Ravan – “Sequoyah,” inspired by
  • Bailey Williams – “Advent,” inspired by the state’s Moravian culture


About “Wilsonart® Challenges”

Wilsonart sponsors the “Wilsonart® Challenges” student design scholarship program to foster the careers of emerging furniture designers in North America. In its 11th year, this competition challenges students at a designated design school to create a unique chair that uses Wilsonart® Laminate to answer a specific design challenge.

Wilsonart selected the industrial design program at Appalachian State University to host the 2015 Challenge. The competition unfolds as a semester-long course, this year taught by Professor Richard Prisco and Grace Jeffers, design historian and materials specialist. The students were taught about laminate, its history, technical capabilities, current market trends and sustainability issues, as well as the history of chairs as decorative art forms.

About Wilsonart

Wilsonart LLC is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and distributors of High Pressure Laminates and other engineered surfaces used in furniture, office and retail space, countertops, worktops and other applications. The company operates under the Wilsonart®, Resopal, Polyrey and Arborite brands and has achieved success through a combination of outstanding service, high-quality products and a focus on continuously redefining the laminate surface through improved performance and aesthetics. For more information, visit or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About the Industrial Design Program at Appalachian State University

The industrial design program at Appalachian prepares students to compete professionally through industry collaborations and studio projects, focusing on design inquiry, creative problem-solving, user research, social and environmental concerns, and manufacturing requirements. The program is comprised of 165majors and five full-time faculty members.

Students can choose from two areas of concentration: Furniture Design or Product Design. Both concentrations focus on design inquiry, creative problem-solving, user research, social and environmental concerns, and manufacturing requirements. Through industry collaborations and studio projects, students are challenged to develop a comprehensive knowledge base allowing them to compete professionally. Student work has been recognized and shown at Greener Gadgets, Dwell® on Design, Designboom® Mart, High Point Furniture Market, ICFF, the national Creative Juice Competition sponsored by Google® and the Milan Furniture Fair.