Custom Made U.S.A by Karen Ryan


British designer Karen Ryan has assembled objects and furniture found in American thrift stores and warehouses to make five new compositions.

Called Custom Made U.S.A, the series incorporates an old television, baseball gloves and second hand books.

More about Karen Ryan on Dezeen:

Whittle Chair (June 2009)
Trilogy (June 2009)
In a Room (April 2009)
In the Woods (March 2009)
Another Chair (October 2008)
Wood Work (May 2008)
Untitled Lights (September 2007)
UNMADE 07 (July 2007)

Here are some more details from Ryan:

'Custom Made U.S.A'
Chicago 2010 series No.1

Custom made U.S.A started with an invitation from Balloon Contemporary in Chicago to come over and make a collection of 'Custom Made' chairs using furniture that was left behind, unwanted in Converso's old warehouse.

I spent two weeks in Chicago in another warehouse, making several trips to the Salvation Army thrift stores where I found other pieces of furniture I wanted to use.

Along with the furniture I selected I also included an old television, a see saw, a card board box and bag of old base ball gloves, a second hand copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Little Women, a bunch of small old keys and some red blanket material.

As a starting point to this collection I took my earliest vivid memory of American culture which happened to be a black and white television series The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn based on a book written by Mark Twain.

It was clear though having started at this point that the experience of being in America for the first time, the impact of the thrift stores and their social context built a deeper and darker relationship to the pieces I designed perhaps echoing Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

There are five pieces in the 'Custom Made U.S.A collection they traverse autobiographical narratives remembered from childhood to new narratives of my experience of America.

Posted on Tuesday April 6th 2010 at 5:26 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • lo


  • doesn’t look very comfortable…
    but certainly interesting

  • Looks like something from a David Lynch movie …

  • heather

    These are fantastic… really nice work, Karen- BRAVO!!

  • gaque

    theyre very nice

  • Nesh

    very nice work! bravo.

  • andrew

    looks like sm – furniture..very nice :-)

  • Jose

    This looks like the furniture swedish and english designstudents were doing in 2007..

  • JF

    I’m sorry, but honestly i don’t like it at all. I understand the project, but…it’s pointless!

  • A

    the final image…….get ready for a nice wack into your shoulder and side body!

  • WillM

    i dont get it.

  • peeween

    excuse me- but this is so000oo MARTINO GAMPER!! 100 chairs in a 100 days- how can you steal something this unique!!

  • Here are some facts for Peeween, I first exhibited ‘Custom Made’ Chairs in London September 2005 at 100% Design where I was then invited to exhibit in Paris and Milan. Paris at the Classic Lab during the Salon de Meuble January 2006 with a second collection of ‘Custom Made’ chairs then Milan at Entralalibera during Milan Furniture fair in April 2006 with a third collection of ‘Custom Made’ Chairs. In June 2006 I then had a solo show at the Rabih hage Gallery London where I exhibited a fourth collection of ‘Custom Made’ Chairs.
    I have been using discarded chairs in my work for years, the first chair entitled ‘The Chair’ was exhibited in 1996 at the Cubit Gallery London it was part of a group show ‘Nine Artists’.

  • A couple of comments as the curator who initiated the project.

    One of the points of the project was to test design’s ability to be relevant to the present moment of international crisis, and to further the debate started last year between Michael Cannell of the New York Times and Murray Moss about where design should be headed under the present conditions. Karen’s work is brilliant because it overturns many of the terms of that debate, to my mind. Importantly, she is also one of a growing number of contemporary designers who subvert or overtly work outside the modernist paradigm of industrial production without collapsing back into craft. The project also explores how narrative can be infused into design. The different levels of narrative active in the objects is impressively dense: one particular piece can be read as a treehouse, a throne, or an electric chair. These are references that naturally arose from the various sources that structured the project, whether it was the Twain material that Karen very cleverly used as a portal into American culture, or her very honest perceptions of the contemporary social reality that she found during her visit. In a very interesting way, there were often convergences amongst all these motivations and also unexpected ironies: the “cast-off” traditional chair that forms part of the cabinet piece is actually a numbered edition and probably had more value originally than the “designer” Paul McCobb chair that sits atop it.

    Regarding Martino Gamper whose work we exhibited last year alongside the American artist Eve Sussman, my hope was to get beyond the pretty simple minded observation that there are surface similarities between Karen and Martino and provoke a more interesting conversation about methods and differences. Both designers come out of the RCA under Ron Arad and, I think, were separated by about a year, not always in the same platform, so obviously there may be some common currents that they are responding to. But I think it’s an unfortunate limitation within design circles and an over-concentration on design as commodity that leads to these types of comments. One could easily cite Martin Kippenberger’s influence on the 100 Chairs project, but I’m not sure what relevance that would bring, nor would it detract, from Gamper’s project or strategies. Same goes for Karen Ryan, who can obviously speak for herself.

  • marl karx

    why not take the leap, stop criticising and create something yourself from the start. My complaint with this work and all the work you have done previous is that it takes discarded objects and just adds to them. On the surface this is fine but really when you look at it, it is just using more material and for what?
    The correct way to tackle this ‘oh there is too much’ train of work is to a. develope a product that is incredibly resolved so as to reduce willingness to discard.
    b. develope a system to address the waste.
    I don’t care if dezeen doesn’t publish this. I have had enough of people who criticise this field through ‘art’ only to gain press in the given field. It is baffling this circle.
    I would also like to know if the tv works.
    if not it is just a wasteful object. It costs energy to transport these objects around the world you know.

  • judi roaman

    Not only did Karen have those exhibitions ……. But her chairs and ceramic pieces have been available at j.roaman in New York since early 2007. Her work is extraordinary and solely her own!!!!

  • REALLY LOVE the new chairs Karen!! Especially the the dug out bench rocker..