It was an earthy smell – specifically the pleasant, sweet odor of freshly cut wood shavings – that prompted Andrea Parikh MFA 14 FD to make one of the most defining decisions of her adult life. The young architect knew she wanted to pursue a graduate degree in design that would allow her to work with her hands, but she wavered on which discipline to ultimately choose. That vacillation immediately went out the window after she visited RISD’s Furniture Design department.
“When visiting the department studios, I felt this rush of collective creative energy I had never experienced before,” notes Parikh. “I knew without a doubt that this was the school and the program for me. There’s a sense of refinement in the work produced here that you don’t find at other schools.”
A year into her studies, Parikh says RISD is the perfect place to explore her fierce love of maker culture. During spring semester, the designer made satisfying pieces such as Flexstool, an inventive design that uses two bent laminated shells to function as both a stool and a small shelf. To add color, texture and a protective shelving surface, she finished the interior surfaces with a soft sea foam flocking powder – the same material that lines many jewelry boxes. She also designed and built Concrete Pillow, a backless chair that looks soft to the touch but is actually rock solid.
“Everything we make is not only conceptually sound – but also functional,” explains Parikh. “For instance, if you want to design a coffee maker, it better brew a good cup of coffee. People use the objects we craft.”
Despite her current enthusiasm, Parikh didn’t always know she wanted to be a furniture designer. While studying architecture at the University of Texas in Arlington, she mastered computer programs to create conceptual blueprints of towering buildings. Only later did the Dallas native begin to crave the intimate feeling that comes from manipulating materials by hand. “I’m happy that I learned some of the building blocks of design during my time studying architecture,” she says. “But I know now that I never want to spend all day in front of a computer again. I’d rather be getting dirty in the shop.”
In RISD’s busy studios, skilled faculty members and technical assistants have taught Parikh the basics of joinery and how to operate machinery. “All of the instructors are really invested in our work. I find that they make objective decisions that help us to continually refine our process,” she says. “Each teacher has their own set of expertise and has a versatile background – whether it’s in woodworking or digital fabrication or metals.”
In Furniture Design, Parikh says she likes being able to tap in to a vast network of people who can lend artistic support. But working among fellow grad students who come from a wide array of backgrounds – including boat building, theater set design and digital media – she says she sometimes needs a healthy dose of concentration to focus.
“Studio life can be very chaotic. You have to be able to tune out all the noise – especially when people are freaking out because they broke something right before a crit,” Parikh says. “But it’s incredible to know that I can put up with so much drama and noise and heartache – all these things that are always running through the shop. Once you learn to do that, the whole RISD experience is entirely stimulating.”
Alumni Alexander Rosenberg 06 GL and Katherine Gray MFA 91 GL are both central to the cast of the glassblowing competition show Blown Away on Netflix.
Textiles students design custom jacquards for the RISD library’s collection of classic Knoll chairs.
Designer Karla López Rivera 04 FD returned to San Juan to launch Isleñas, a socially responsible footwear company.