Eclectic Canadian designer Calen Knauf produces objects that are finely resolved studies in colour and materiality.
There are many phrases that come to mind when describing Calen Knauf’s work: eclectic, dynamic and just downright cool. The Vancouver-based designer established Knauf and Brown with Conrad Brown in 2013 following their graduation from Emily Carr University of Art and Design. In late 2019, Conrad left to focus on photography and Calen is now a sole operator of Calen Knauf Studio, where he continues to exemplify everything that’s right with contemporary Canadian design.
For someone who has received a lot of attention in the international design press of late, he doesn’t spend much time looking at it. “I don’t use a smartphone and I don’t use headphones unless I’m watching a movie on a plane,” Calen reflects. “I just try to take in as much direct stimulation as possible, whether I like what I’m seeing and hearing or not.” This low-tech approach pervades his prodigious portfolio, which comprises industrial and product designs as well as retail fitouts for global streetwear brand Stüssy. It also functions as a creative reality check of sorts, ensuring his work doesn’t end up a mere derivative of any number of other objects already in existence.
As a result, Calen’s lighting, furniture and accessories possess a fine-art sensibility resounding with intellectual rigour and a genuine desire to offer the end user something unique. “I’m trying to shape my objects in the most logical way to achieve a silhouette or form that brings something new to the table,” he explains.
From the spindly minimalism of the P.O. Light to the bristly tactility of the Keefer Credenza, each one of Calen's works is a finely resolved study in colour and materiality, with a distinct element of fun thrown in for good measure. However, his most exciting product to date is arguably the Sponge Table, a simple design constructed from carbonated aluminium panel. It appeals for its graphic shape and the way in which the porous material is completely unrecognizable as metal, once finished in either bright yellow or beige. By deliberately exposing the aluminium’s inherent qualities, Calen reveals his commitment to producing work that is as aesthetically organic as possible.
Unsurprisingly, he isn’t a fan of narrative in design and finds the process of ascribing a story to his products a little forced. He’d rather they engage for the silliness of a concept, a disjointed visual reference or an obscure source of inspiration. Calen doesn’t subscribe to a particular style either, although his works are easily identifiable by their sense of urban energy that is very much of the moment. He’s currently working on new objects and revisiting past ideas, all of which will be well worth the wait. calenknauf.com