KCAD Students Take Top Two Prizes in Nationwide Furniture Design Competition

Posted November 10, 2022 in Product Design

Since 1970, The Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library in High Point, North Carolina, has celebrated the emerging designers of the furniture industry. And in 2022, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) students Boya Zhang and Oliver McCarthy had their names etched into its history by winning the First and Second Place prizes in the annual Bienenstock Furniture Design Competition.

The library challenged students to design an original chair that is “visually stunning, appropriate for manufacturing, fiscally feasible, and suitable within the constraints of mass production” for the residential and/or contract trade markets. Students were asked to submit a design brief explaining their inspiration and process, along with ideation thumbnails, scale drawings, and renderings of their final design.

An image of a rocking chair next to an image of an arm chair

(left): "Breezy Chair" by Boya Zhang, winner of 1st Place in the 2022 Bienenstock Furniture Design Competition; (right): "Bozzolo Chair" by Oliver McCarthy, winner of 2nd Place in the competition

KCAD alum Joe Parr (’13, BFA Furniture Design), who runs his own design firm, Joe Parr Design, and teaches at KCAD as an adjunct instructor, led the class where students developed the projects for the competition. He says, “I created the class with the competition in mind. I find that students tend to do better and are more motivated when they have an exterior goal in mind.” 

Rather than working on several projects during a semester, students were asked to focus on a single piece. “I noted that many of the designers in the competition were surprised how detailed our students got,” Parr says. “My goal was to help them understand what it takes to make something manufacturable, really detailing every screw and piece of material in it. I’ve been structuring all my project classes to give students that experience, because everyone benefits from it.”

Parr draws on his own experience as a designer throughout the class, following real-life development processes. “Students learn how to research an aesthetic, develop a story behind the design, do market research, sketch, create scale models, and develop full-scale mockups using two-by-fours, foam, or other really quick materials that show them what it’s like to sit in a piece of furniture they’re designing.” While students are not required to take part in the competition, by the end of the class, every student has a complete project that is suitable to enter.

Students from all over the country send their best work to the competition. And this year, after Bienenstock judges reviewed 47 entries from eight colleges, two KCAD student projects rose to the top.

First Place: Boya Zhang

Photo of a woman with black hair and black rimmed glasses smiling into the camera

Zhang ('22) took the top prize in the competition, winning a $5,000 scholarship and a $1,000 prize for KCAD’s Product Design program with her Breezy Chair, which was inspired by her quest for a better nursing chair. “As a new mom, I looked around for a nursing chair that genuinely cares about the unique condition of postpartum women,” she said. However, it was difficult for her to find a chair that was breathable and designed to blend into the home naturally after its short life as a nursing chair.

A digital rendering of a chair design for nursing mothers
"Breezy Chair" by Boya Zhang

The Breezy Chair offers a breathable polyester mesh back and water-resistant linen seat over a steel tube frame, with steam-bent ash for the rockers. Zhang added a U-shaped pillow that can be used to prop the baby while nursing, then moved to the back of the seat to blend in. A contoured seating surface creates a “snug embrace” where mom and baby can bond while offering great lumbar support, and a comfortable headrest invites mom to snooze. The soft form and subtle texture inspire baby’s hands to touch and create a mentally soothing space.


Design details of Boya Zhang's "Breezy Chair"

Judges were impressed by both her research and theme of her design. They felt the chair was cozy and cocooning with thoughtful and pleasing design elements. Upon winning, Zhang said, “I am very grateful to be chosen as the First Place winner. It’s a great recognition for me as I step into the professional world as a furniture designer. I would recommend this competition to all furniture design students who want to dive deeply into the design process and showcase their passion about furniture design.”

Second Place: Oliver McCarthy

A photo of a man with spiky blond hair, a neatly trimmed blond beard, and a black turtleneck smiling into the camera

McCarthy (‘23) earned Second Place and a $1,500 scholarship for his entry, the Bozzolo Chair.  He says, “I knew it was going to be tough to stand out against the other designs in the school, let alone nationwide. For Boya and me to place 1 and 2 from everyone across the U.S. was awesome! We were super-excited for each other.”  

A rendering of a circular white armchair with black metals legs
"Bozzolo Chair" by Oliver McCarthy

Created in response to people seeking more comfort in their homes during COVID, McCarthy’s concept sought to blend visual and physical comfort along with a nesting quality that could enhance people’s sense of security. “My main concept was a cuddle chair. The name Bozzolo is Italian for cocoon,” he explains. “I wanted to create a chair that could fit two people comfortably or one person in any position. A lot of chairs don’t consider plus-size people, so I wanted to design an all-inclusive chair that could fit anyone.”  


Design details of Oliver McCarthy's "Bozzolo Chair"

After studying a variety of postures including upright, reclining, and meditating poses, he adjusted the size of the seat base and pitch of the back to maximize comfort. The final design is an inviting circular nest of felt wrapped around thick foam, upholstery coil springs, and plywood atop a powder-coated steel base. 
  
McCarthy’s design was characterized as “aesthetically pleasing and a compelling design that could be seen in a luxury hotel.” He noted, “I am so honored to place within this competition and would like to extend my gratitude to the judges. The Bozzolo has become one of my favorite pieces that I have designed. It was a labor of love, dedication, trial, and error.”

Connections Abound for McCarthy at Bienenstock Future Designers Summit

In addition to winning Second Prize in the 2022 Bienenstock Furniture Design Competition, McCarthy also attended the Bienenstock Future Designers Summit in September. Held in High Point, North Carolina, the three-day summit helps student designers get to know the people, brands, and processes in the furniture industry through a series of networking events with industry leaders, manufacturing plant tours, and design seminars. Students must apply for the summit, submitting both a written statement and a portfolio, and only a limited number of aspiring designers nationwide are accepted each year.

McCarthy says, “When I found out I was able to attend, I was almost as excited as I was about winning the award. From hotels to transportation and events, it was all paid for minus the flight, and it was the most incredible experience!”

He took full advantage of the opportunity, saying, “I probably have over 3,000 photos I took for inspiration. We did four or five furniture company tours in two-and-a-half days, and it was awesome to see the inner workings of these large-scale manufacturers.”

McCarthy also enjoyed expanding his network, saying, “I got a lot of businesses cards and contacts through these companies, and I made sure to give my business cards out to every designer I met. Since then, I’ve been able to connect with a  handful of them on LinkedIn. I also got a lot of Instagram handles from my peers. There were 48 of us who attended, and I have contact info for 44 of them! The friends I made there are going to be lifelong and super-beneficial. We’re all in the industry, spread across the U.S. Having that kind of kind of network already is invaluable!”

He was also grateful to receive a nomination for an additional scholarship during the conference. “They provided several opportunities to put your name in for a scholarship during the conference, whether by filling out a survey, being on time, or having an industry professional recommend you. We had 15-minute roundtables with some of the designers, and afterwards, I found out that Caroline Hipple, President of Norwalk Furniture, had recommended me!”

Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD Professor and advisor of the Furniture Design concentration in the Product Design Program is grateful for the Summit’s role in connecting KCAD student designers to the future, saying, “More thanks to the Bienenstock Library and their sponsors for providing our next design leaders much-needed financial and networking support through this event.”

Reflecting on this year’s entries, Parr says, “It was a tough competition. Everyone brought their A game! I was not expecting a one-two punch, but it’s fantastic that it worked out like that! It shows that Kendall continues to offer a top-notch furniture design education within the Product Design program, that our student designers are getting trained in very successful ways, and that they’re getting recognized around the industry.”

He adds, “Boya, in particular, was very committed to creating a functional piece of furniture. I was impressed with how she drew on her personal experience as a new mother to create her nursing chair, and she really embraced the challenge of merging functional needs with good aesthetic decisions. Then Oliver got a lot of learning from his model. He set up his mockup, and halfway through the full-scale development, he realized that some things needed to change. He had some great learning experiences which really showed in his end product.”

Product Design Professor Gayle DeBruyn adds, “For KCAD, to see two students place first and second speaks well of our students and faculty. This competition provides our students with the opportunity to test their skills against other university students, hear from industry experts, and validate how well they understand both the market demands and the manufacturing capabilities of the $200+ billion global home furnishings industry.”

According to DeBruyn, this event also allows KCAD to test the value of what it’s teaching. “For the faculty, the judges interest us most,” she says. “Our 94-year legacy is built on a reputation of a deep knowledge of historical reference upon which is layered an understanding of current and emerging manufacturing practices, materials, processes and impacts, so the competition tests our skills as well.”

This year’s judges featured some industry giants, including 2016 Furniture Hall of Fame inductee, Richard Frinier (Richard Frinier Design Studio), Danny Davis (Davis Furniture Industries), Dudley Moore, ASFD (Otto & Moore Inc.), Royale Wiggin (Thayer Coggin Inc.), Vivian Beer (Vivian Beer Studio Works), David Williams (Wits End Design), and 1992 KCAD Furniture Design graduate Scott Coley (D. Scott Coley Designs).

Both Parr and DeBruyn are thankful for the Bienenstock Library’s investment in the future generation.  Parr says, “I’m really grateful to them for providing this award. It gives students much-needed support in a market that can be tough for students to break into. Recognition points like this mean a lot to them, and these events also show the market where successful students are.”

DeBruyn adds, “We extend our thanks to the Bienenstock Library, the International Society of Furniture Designers, and The Dudley Moore, Sr. Furniture Design Competition Scholarship Program for their support and encouragement of students to advance their scholarship.  And a special thanks to Dudley Moore Jr, and KCAD alum Liz Moore (’13, BFA Furniture Design) from Otto & Moore, who have mentored many of our alumni throughout the years and are continually advising KCAD on how to adapt our curriculum to meet the shifting needs and expectations of the industry."

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