A different design school hosts the Wilsonart Challenge each year. This year, Wilsonart worked with Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design to host their fifteenth annual challenge.

Wilsonart, an engineered surfaces company based in Texas, developed the program that is both a sponsored class and a competition. Over the course of the spring semester, students learned how to design, and build a unique chair and prepared their entries for the trade show with help from director of the interior design program Pamela Evans and associate architecture professor Bill Lucak.

Each entry in the competition was inspired by the students’ individual interpretations of what the future could hold and how it could be expressed in a design.

For the first time this year, students used patterns from the Wilsonart Laminate Collection and were encouraged to explore the futuristic theme through parametric design and fabrication.

Greg Genter, a graduate student in the architecture program, won the competition with his design “Assembly.”

By winning the competition, Genter also received a scholarship and an all-expenses paid trip to display his chair at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.

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Greg Genter, a graduate student in the architecture program, with his winning design “Assembly,” at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Genter’s design requires the user put thought and energy into sitting. By doing this, the user connects more with the object and has a more significant experience.

Genter had never tried his hand at furniture design before the competition and was interested in trying something new.

“Just having the experience and going through the process of design to being fully fabricated and then being able to experience going to New York and seeing the ICFF and meeting everyone there,” Genter said. “It has really changed a lot of my outlook and I think it has really reshaped how I think of design and what my future could hold for it.”

Genter’s idea for “Assembly” originally started with the prompt provided by Wilsonart, “what is the future?”

“It was just a general question that they wanted us to think about and allow us to guide what we were designing,” Genter said. “But I think it was also a mixture of what I was doing in other classes and what I was working on with other projects. I think all of that formed together to create what I came up with at the end.”

From forming the original idea, to having it fully constructed, it took Genter the whole semester to finish his design. At the end, a jury of judges from Wilsonart and Kent State was assembled to judge the chair designs.

“They selected a couple people that they thought had whatever merits they were looking for and then those people were able to go back and reconstruct,” Genter said. “For me there wasn’t a lot of work after that, I just touched up details.”

Winning the competition has given Genter a lot of hope for his future and his work in design.

“I really wasn’t going in expecting to win or even necessarily wanting to win. I just wanted to explore my options and see what I could do with furniture design,” Genter said. “After getting that validation it has given me a lot of hope that my ideas are valid and there might be something there for me in the future.”

Genter’s winning design was displayed at the 2019 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York from May 18 to May 22, alongside five other students who qualified in the competition.

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Kent State's booth at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

One of the great things about this project was there wasn’t a lot of oversight from Wilsonart, Genter said. They wanted to see what students could come up with on their own with design freedom. This confidence was Genter’s biggest takeaway from the experience.

“Go with what you want to do,” Genter said. “Be confident in what you’re creating.”

Maria McGinnis is a reporter. Contact her at mmcginn9@kent.edu.

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