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In Conversation: Yining Ge, Redefining Materiality in Furniture Design

Yining Ge (b. 2001, Hangzhou, China) is a furniture designer currently based in Providence, RI. His work, primarily in wood, extends into metal, ceramics, and textiles, reflecting a profound exploration of materiality and form. Yining’s journey into furniture design began unexpectedly during his freshman year at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) when he discovered the Furniture Design department. This discovery set him on a path from technical precision to a more sculptural approach, culminating in his senior thesis, "Monolith Program," which explores the intersection of monolithic forms and material experimentation with poplar wood.

Yining's design philosophy has evolved through his educational experiences and cultural influences. His method of sketching with a red China marker, for instance, signifies his shift towards understanding the volume and form of his designs from the initial stages. Yining's work has been exhibited in prominent shows, including the ICFF + Wanted Design LaunchPad at the Javis Center in New York and various triennial and senior shows at RISD. His designs continue to push the boundaries of material and form, reflecting a unique blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern innovation.

Photo of Yining Ge. Image Courtesy of Yining Ge.

Q: What has influenced your journey as a furniture designer? How have your cultural experiences and educational path shaped your artistic perspective and approach to design?

I had no idea there was a furniture department at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) until halfway through my freshman year when I learned about this unique major. My studio practice has evolved from a more technical approach to a more sculptural design process. After the first half of my junior year, when I had completed most of the technical curriculum, I engaged in self-reflection, which helped me build my woodworking skills. During my last year at RISD, my focus shifted. "Monolith Program" is the title of my senior thesis project, for which I spent the school year studying monolith forms and conducting material exploration with the wood species—poplar.

Q: What is your design philosophy and how does it inform your approach to furniture design?

Recently, I have modified my sketching medium. I changed from a 0.5 mechanical pencil to a red China marker, which has a heavier line weight, introducing volume to my two-dimensional drawings. Also, with its heavier line weight, I can better understand my objects at the ideation stages and more accurately grasp the forms of my objects.

Q: Could you elaborate on the concept of gravity as a key structural element in "Void"? How did you translate this natural phenomenon into the design of the bench?

"Void" is a balance between delicacy and substantiality and an interplay of gravity in dolmen forms. Rock forms over time. Layers upon layers shape its materiality. The rock formation is inseparable from gravity. Delicacy in the bench dances on the edge of fragility and resilience, embodying an appreciation for subtlety, while the material choice is more robust, reflecting the found enduring strength. Early humans collected large rock slabs and created monolithic structures. To me, these structures showcase gravity in their essence. I delve into gravitational force, seeking to capture gravity as the key structural element for "Void." In bench form, "Void’s" structural strength comes from interaction. "Void" disassembles into three parts; the seating platform, with two slanted mortises, drops down into their corresponding trapezoidal legs functioning as tenons. The angled joinery is a friction-fit structure representing gravity. In use, the introduction of mass through seating strengthens stability and further emphasizes gravity’s influence.

Void, Poplar, 2024.13”x40”14”. Image Courtesy of Yining Ge.

Q: "Ground" takes inspiration from ancient stone monuments, specifically dolmens. How do you balance traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design in this piece? In "Ground," the decision to emphasize the chisel silhouette in the drawer is intriguing. Could you discuss the symbolism behind this choice and its significance within the context of celebrating craftsmanship?

Cabinet making is a cornerstone of traditional handcrafted woodworking, demanding the craftsman’s utmost attention to achieve flawless joineries. "Ground" is a cabinet that mirrors Dolmens’ robust simplicity and moves away from the conventional emphasis on perfect joinery. Rather than using joineries to piece the cabinet together, working subtractively is crucial to "Ground." The making process relies on intuitive shaping and mark-making on a laminated body. The surface texture, created by using an angle grinder, adds a tactile dimension, synthesizing the raw essence from my inspiration. That being said, "Ground" is nothing like an ordinary cabinet. At the center of the cabinet is a drawer with a chisel silhouette on one side. The negative chisel silhouette symbolizes the lost celebration of craft through the tool rather than the craftsmanship. The cabinet is finished with a charred surface both as a protective layer and to emphasize the timelessness of the dolmens. Through these methods, the cabinet transforms into a tactile exploration of the enduring legacy of traditional craftsmanship.

Ground, Charred Poplar, 2023. 15”x8”x46”. Image Courtesy of Yining Ge.

Q: "Fusion Inlay" merges steel rod structures with wooden panels. What challenges did you encounter during the fusion of these materials, and how did you address them?

"Fusion Inlay" is a result of an exploration of material binding with wood and steel. Connecting 3/4 inch steel rods with veneer-pressed MDF boards, I created a 1/2 spherical channel using a corresponding router bit.

Fusion Inlay, Steel Rod + Maple, 2023. 19”x7”x56”. Image Courtesy of Yining Ge.

Q: "Stool 0V" is described as a study of the Windsor-Style three-legged stool. What aspects of this traditional design did you seek to preserve, and what elements did you reinterpret or innovate upon in your own design?

The study of Windsor furniture, especially chairs, involves learning the journey of their practice of joineries forming lightweight structures. "Stool 0V" follows their pathway in combination with my studio practice adopted in my senior thesis project. Though my habit of burning may weaken the traditional Windsor joineries, I am testing the boundary of the joineries’ strength and stability.

Stool 0V, Poplar, 2024, 12”x4”x22”.  Image Courtesy of Yining Ge.

Q: How do you approach the relationship between form and function in your designs, especially in pieces like "Void" and "Stool 0V" where both aspects seem to interact uniquely?

Though the two pieces were inspired by different forms, they both share a focus on joinery for structural strength. In "Void" and "Stool 0V," each includes an inviting negative space, emphasizing the importance of joinery to their overall structure.

Q: Can you discuss the significance of material choice in your designs, particularly how you select and combine materials to achieve your desired aesthetic and functional goals?

My material choice is strongly related to my making process rather than my inspiration and conceptual development. My recent projects are all related to monolithic forms, which guide my designs to have a heavy visual performance. Also, since most of the projects have surface carvings and are burned, they all have a unifying dark and textured appearance. Keeping those three aspects in mind, I chose poplar, which is a lower-density, lightweight wood.


As Yining Ge continues to refine his craft and explore the boundaries of material and design, his work stands as a testament to the interplay between form, function, and cultural heritage. His pieces invite a deeper appreciation for the structural and aesthetic possibilities within furniture design, challenging conventional notions while celebrating the enduring legacy of craftsmanship. For inquiries, portfolio samples, or commissions, Yining's contact remains open to those who share his passion for innovative and thoughtful design.


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