Everyone has sat on a gray, metal folding chair: waiting at the DMV, as an extra guest at a dinner table, working in a makeshift office. Tanya Aguiñiga, a Los Angeles-based designer, transforms this ubiquitous piece of furniture in her series, Felt Chairs. Aguiñiga spends up to twenty laborious hours lovingly hand-felting each simple folding chair, covering it in vibrant color. Metal becomes a skeleton for bright and singular textured felt, akin to skin. What was cold is now warm, what was common is now individual. How we place ourselves in this chair has changed entirely.
Aguiñiga knows a thing or two about the physicality of place—or, in her case, places. Born in the U.S., she grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, commuting each day back across the border to school in California. As a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design, she learned to combine her dual identities: her love of color, she says, comes from her Mexican side and her minimal aesthetic from the American. It was in Rhode Island, missing her family in Mexico, that Aguiñiga designed the Embrace Lounge. At first glance, it looks like a simple bench topped with shock of orange upholstery. But instead of sitting, the user is encouraged to lie on top of it. The piece envelops its occupants, suspending them like babies.
The designer’s reach is broad—Aguiñiga makes jewelry and site-specific work in addition to furniture—but textiles are a constant point of reference, especially those native to Mexico. They find their way into many works, including Zinacantan, a chair named for the center of Chiapas weaving, and the Teotitlan 2 chair whose namesake is a Oaxacan village known for hand-loomed rugs. Also influenced bymid-century design, nature, and traditional craft, Aguiñiga translates all of these into her specific hybrid sensibility. The result is a seesaw of contrasts, intimacy against vibrancy, structure against softness, as Aguiñiga reframes the familiar into the new.
Tanya Aguiñiga is a Los Angeles-based designer.
Elizabeth Essner is a design specialist living in Brooklyn, NY.