This year, we’ve watched the foam-as-furniture trend emerge and develop at shows during Milan Design Week and NYCxDesign. The use of foam blocks is intriguing from an artistic choice standpoint, but within the white hallways lined with brightly colored furniture at this year’s DesignMiami lied something even more intriguing—a furniture designer that develops and designs his own foam that’s ideal for functional furniture.
South Korean designer Sang Hoon Kim‘s family has been operating a foam factory for the past three generations, and after taking up a job at the factory, the designer became fascinated with the manipulative properties of the material. Equal parts science and chance, his Foam Series speaks quite accurately to his current mindset—a structured designer who wants to break free and experiment with a more fluid material and aesthetic.
I expected the furniture to sink in when sat on, but Kim’s unique foam formula is feels almost like the memory foam found in mattresses but with a tougher exterior shell. Even through two densities are experienced, the furniture is entirely made from the same foam material. We sat down with Kim to learn more about this material and his process of combining science with design:
Core77: What inspired you to divert from your previous style to work with foam for this collection?
SHK: My interest in architecture has allowed me to apply the methods and elements used in architectural ideas to my work. However, I grew tired of my previous design work because it was not different enough in design language or method from what other architects and designers are doing. The Foam Series is totally different than my previous works because it is very free and intuitive. I designed as if modeling with clay or drawing pictures without any formalities. I wanted to design differently from other designers, so I tried to find my own way to make furniture.
Why did you choose foam as a material to express more design freedom?
My family business has been operating a ‘foam factory’ over the last three generations, so experimenting with this ‘flexible foam’ material came naturally to me. I became interested foam as a material when I joined the factory to develop a new mattress line in 2015. I was able to learn about the characteristics of foam materials and discovered the possibility of making unique furniture with them. I found the properties and advantages of the foam materials and tried to apply them to my furniture. I would practice and study the properties of foam materials after I finished working at the factory and on the weekends.
The Foam Series is the result of 3 years of research about the material ‘flexible foam’. Flexible foam is widely used to make artificial skin, medical goods, artificial leather, mattresses and pillows like TempurPedic. It is harmless to humans, and it has no smell. Polyurethane foam (memory foam) is made by a chemical reaction of different solutions including Polyol, and I learned this particular technique from working at the factory. It allows me to modify the mix ratio of chemical solutions so that I can adjust the foam from a soft to hard feeling and change it to various colors. The surface increases the density of the foam so that it does not tear easily, and it delays foaming time to express my desired shape and texture. These forms become a new piece of work due to their adhesiveness. The pieces don’t need a finish like lacquer or paint because the foam builds its skin itself. Flexible foam is a very suitable material for furniture because it feels very comfortable.
What was your design process like for the Foam Series?
The Foam Series is made with a very different process than other furniture. I do not need to drill, cut or finish anything. I use an electric scale, mixer and scientific formulations to make the furniture. The furniture is basically made out of chemical reactions, so I can control the properties and make some spots soft like cushion and other spots hard to support the structure.
My design perspective has begun to change after studying and using foam materials. I’ve become interested in naturally occurring phenomenon that happen everywhere in nature. The foam material brought my interest to reality. I only plan basic ideas when I start to make a piece of foam furniture, and then the specific design details come during my making process.
Each piece changes in design and color many times during my design process. It is very free and intuitive. I try not to be affected by trends or any ideology with this collection, so I add colors very freely. I improvise with my favorite color of the day according to my mood. I change and layer the color of each piece daily as I work on them, and I consider them finished when I feel that the color looks complete. Sometimes I even change the color and shape after I finish because everyday involves different feelings.
Foam Series is currently on view at Christina Grajales Gallery’s booth at DesignMiami.