Intrinsic Design’s Chris Blackburn on Engineering Experiences

A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Chris Blackburn owns Intrinsic Design, a furniture business that allows him to explore the intersections between art and craft, and create designs that offer his clients both an object and an experience. In the following installment of MH+D Inside Out, Blackburn reveals his process of designing functional art.

Q. What are your favorite material to work with?

A. I prefer to use domestic materials as much as possible, and so cherry and walnut are my two favorites right now. In the past, I’ve also done some steel and concrete sculpture and furniture

Q. Do you prefer to design by hand or with a program?

A. For me, there’s something that gets very, very lost if I use technology, that puts a barrier between me and the concept for the design. There’s something about pencil and paper and handling materials that allows my creativity, my soul if you will, to be conveyed into the object from start to finish, from concept to fruition.

Q. Would you define furniture design as art or craftsmanship?

A. That was the whole concept of my thesis in sculpture. I think furniture design can blur those lines. I would create a sculpture, but it would also have a function. And then it’s too strange to be purely a product, and it’s also too functional to be purely art. I don’t know that I ever found a solid answer, even now. I feel like good design does somehow transcend craft, and it becomes just a beautiful object that you talk about in a different way than just a chair. At best, design can be both art and craft, and at worst, it can be neither.

Q. How might design transcend craftsmanship?

A. Whether designing a space or an object to be used in space, you’re engineering an experience. Furniture has a very human scale because we use it, and we approach it with our bodies. Somehow a chair becomes sculpture when you sit in it. Depending on how you design a chair, you change what somebody does with their body. Do they set their arms on the chair? Do they not? Through design, you have the ability to craft an experience.