The essential freshness of Archana Menon
Strolling coffee-in-hand through Savannah’s tree-lined Pulaski Square, Archana is ostensibly on break between academic quarters. In reality, the graduate student has just finished organizing the shipment of her furniture collection to New York City, where the undulating five-foot-long ebonized ash bench and two accompanying ash and alabaster lamps will be displayed during ICFF 2021. She’ll be there too, appearing on WantedDesign Manhattan’s Emerging Design Showcase panel. Then on to Design Miami, where the designer will discuss her work as part of the Whitewall panel Design Impact: Creating for a More Sustainable Future on November 30.
“I trained as an architect in Mumbai, then worked in interiors and hospitality, and doing residential architecture work in India,” Archana says. “During that process, I realized I enjoyed designing furniture and felt that was my calling. SCAD offered me a good scholarship, and I came here to study for a master’s degree in Fall 2019 — my first time in the United States. Everyone has been so welcoming and supportive, students and faculty. SCAD furniture is family.”
Professor Frederic Spector, SCAD associate chair of furniture design, initially encountered Archana in FURN 715, Methods in Furniture Fabrication. “Archana designed and built a tri-legged table with beautiful sculptural tapered turned legs and a curved top,” Spector says. “She taught herself how to use the lathe and how to incorporate 3-axis CNC milling, processes typically not covered in that class. In a subsequent graduate studio, where the project was to design and build a work-from-home desk, she designed a desk system where work surfaces, legs, and privacy panels lock in. This whole system was both well-engineered and sculpturally beautiful. She has an amazing eye for form and proportion, and a keen understanding of trends.”
The freshness of Archana’s approach is due in part to circumventing the dominant Western design repertoire. “What if there was a more open, pluralistic environment, where we find inspiration in incorporating different cultures into our design?” she asks.
A keen admirer of the artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi, Archana designed and built her primal-forms lamps “Lighting I & II” informed by the ancient monolithic columns of Hampi, India. Her bench “Seating I” nods to Eastern cultural traditions of sitting closer to the ground; per its catalog description, the bench “aims to step away from rigid ergonomic standards and promotes fluidity of interpretation.” As Archana says: “You can sit on it however you want!”
Having won the 2021 Hospitality Design/West Elm Student Product Design Competition for her “Bloom” lighting collection, Archana received a $5,000 prize and will have her winning design produced and sold by West Elm — a significant, palpable step towards manifesting her design philosophy in the retail space.
“The multi-cultural aspect of SCAD is something that drew me here,” Archana says. “I don’t treat SCAD as a school, I see it as a start to a professional journey.”
Archana Menon (M.F.A., furniture design).
Written by Peter Relic.