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New Designers 2021: Meet Cai Smith

This year’s virtual New Designers competition highlighted the very best and brightest emerging design talents, including Cai Smith with his tailor-made Aperture Shelving unit. Inspired by Japanese joinery and sustainable design, Smith’s dedication to craft and process is evident in his submission; learn more about his work below.

1. Congratulations on being shortlisted for The Conran Shop and The Marandi Foundation's Designer of the Future Award 2021; how do you feel, and what does this award mean for your future and practice?

After being shortlisted for The Conran Shop award I felt a huge sense of achievement as it shows that well-established companies think highly of my work. I believe this will be a huge benefit for me in the future as it shows that influential design studios appreciate my work and it will help share my work with designers who won’t be able to see it.  

2. Are you familiar with the work we do at The Conran Shop and of Sir Terence's legacy? Did it have any influence on your work?

I am familiar with The Conran Shop’s work and the legacy of Sir Terence Conran. The fact that in the 1960s was the pioneer of flat pack furniture in the UK influenced me to put a modern twist on flat pack furniture and create a sustainable, contemporary design that can be assembled and disassembled easily as many times as possible.

 3. Please tell us more about who you are and your project.

I work directly with materials and manufacturing processes to create high-quality designs for the domestic environment. I researched the works of designers and have drawn on this research to develop an understanding of how different processes can be utilised to design and make products of the highest quality and standard, with an aesthetic to complement as well as provide practical, long-lasting use in the home. My curiosity has led me to explore the function and form that can be achieved using a broad range of materials and as a result, I have made and designed products from such diverse materials as metal, wood and ceramic. I have ultimately chosen metal as a key component of a number of my designs, not only because of its durable properties but also because it can be manufactured into beautiful items which will be treasured and valued for many years. 

The shelving joint is designed in such a way as to allow the unit to be tailor-made. This means that a user can specifically design the shelf themselves to fit into any space within their home. They can decide how many shelves are needed and can choose the height and length of the unit, giving a personal touch to their final design. In addition, the finish of the aluminium frame can be anodised from a select range of colours, and the wooden shelves can be personalized from Valchromat’s own colour palette. Standard shelf sizes and designs will also be made so that there are stock options for the buyer to choose from.

The aperture shelving system is made with sustainability in mind. Since the shelving unit is completely ‘flat pack’, a greater number of units of the product can be shipped at any one time meaning that fewer vehicles are required to transport a batch order of products to one place. As well as this, aluminium is widely recycled so if any part were to become damaged, it could easily be disposed of. In addition, since the parts are interchangeable should one become damaged it could easily be replaced. This gives the user the option to choose to repair their shelf rather than have to replace it. Furthermore, the Valchromat wooden shelves are FSC-certified. Valchromat is stronger, more resilient to bending, moisture- and flame-retardant and is coloured by organic dyes. Most importantly it is manufactured from recycled pine wood, branches and chips from softwood forests. This means it will last longer than other fibreboard products and is more environmentally friendly to produce.  

4. As to your work, who inspires it and do you have a particular process that drives your craft?

I’m inspired by the craft of making beautiful pieces of furniture. For example, I believe that getting in the workshop and being hands-on with materials and being able to design by seeing what you can do with different tools and machines benefits my work greatly and helps me create functional and beautiful designs to a high quality and with precision.

5. How important do you think something like New Designers is for emerging designers?

It’s a great way to expose my work to lots of different designers and people who may not see my work. Being part of these competitions shows that well-established companies think highly of the work I am producing. 

6. Looking around, did you see any emerging trends/shared concerns/materials with your fellow designers?

Sustainability within design seems to be a very popular trend at the moment and more and more people are beginning to buy products and furniture which have these aspects designed into them. This is slowly making single-use products obsolete and as a designer, we need to be more cautious of the impact our designs have on the environment.   

7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing emerging designers? Did the pandemic impact your work in any way, and how was it working through New Designers virtually?

As the pandemic has swept across the country there are fewer opportunities for designers to work in studios and be able to set up new studios as there is less demand at the moment. The pandemic has made it much harder to produce the designs I have made and lots of parts had to be outsourced to companies that were still running over the pandemic. Working with New Designers digitally has been good but has also been a real shame as I would have loved to be able to show my work in person to the many different people who would have been at the New Designers show.   

8. What, in your opinion, makes a design timeless?

A timeless design is something that is minimal yet sophisticated and can fit any design trends of the current times. It also has to be highly functional so can be used in any setting.

 9. What are your ambitions for the next ten years?

In the next ten years I want to work in many different design studios and workshops so that I can get a better understanding of what it’s like to work in a design practice. I would then like to open up my own studio or workshop and be able to design under my own name.

10. Lastly, which is your favourite piece of design history and who is your best-loved designer?

My favourite piece from design history is the Charles and Ray Eames DSW Chair with the Eiffel legs, and my best-loved designer is Jasper Morrison.

Click here to discover more about our involvement with New Designers and to meet the rest of the 2021 shortlist; plus, be sure to follow Cai here.