Vellum Furniture Show Marks 20 Years

by Kai Benjamin Parel-Sewell

Visitors examine Johnny Lopez’s operable pendant lamp, ”Life Light.”

Over 200 pieces of original Cal Poly student work were on display in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo on Nov. 3 and 4 at the 20th edition of the Vellum Design Build and Cal Poly’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design’s Annual Furniture Competition & Exhibition (Vellum 20).


Students spend months preparing for Vellum, creating a wide breadth of work. Backgrounds from across CAED are represented in the competition, not just architecture. For some students, it is the culmination of years of school, training and design thinking. For others, it is their first foray into the world of furniture making at any scale. Entries include lamps, coffee tables, chairs, sculptures, and much more.

Attendees read about Kai Parel-Sewell’s lamp, “Heavy, Lighter, Light.”

There are many roads to Vellum for students. For some, Vellum makes up a key part of their architecture design studios; for others, it’s a passion project that they take on outside of class time.

For all students, however, “Vellum provides a true life-test case employing real budgets, real materials, real engagement with suppliers, fabricators and manufacturers, and real schedules,” explained Tom di Santo, architecture professor and Vellum co-organizer.

“This competition provides a forum for students to expeditiously exhibit their design passions with alacrity and with a facility for craft,” di Santo said.

Prior to the opening of the exhibition downtown, Brian Messana, co-founder of New York architecture firm Messana O’Rorke, gave a lecture on campus at the Business Rotunda. Messana discussed his firm’s design philosophy and portfolio, defined by “crafting spaces of sublime restraint and ethereal beauty.”

1] Brian Messana lectured at the Business Rotunda before the opening of the exhibition downtown.
2] Michael Daskarolis performed a musical sample on the “Santouri Table” he built with Ella Kawamoto, one of the People’s Choice Awards.


Towards the end of first evening, Tom di Santo stood before the eager crowd to present the results of the jury’s deliberations.


”[de]stress“ by Hannah Scoggins, pc: Scoggins

SPaCe Architecture sponsors the event’s main award, the SPaCe Architecture Milano Grand Prize winner. This year, it was awarded to Hannah Scoggins of Dale Clifford’s fifth-year thesis studio.

Scoggins characterized her piece as “an exploration of a single bent piece of tubing.” The finishing touches, "carefully crafted wooden accessories, a few coats of paint and a felted sling seat are really what made it a chair.”

Stress and design are the main focuses of Scoggins’ thesis, so she wanted to create a chair where "the materials were doing the stressing for the user … a lighthearted play on this topic.”

”Thermal Divide” by Julia Perry, pc: Perry

Local architecrture firm, RRM, sponsored an award that honors projects entirely fabricated by the student. Julia Perry, from Tom di Santo’s third-year studio, was this year’s recipient of the RRM 100% Pure award.

Perry drew inspiration from her piece from a project she created in her second year. It focuses on “interaction between warm and cool... expressed through materiality.” Perry spent over “100 hours in the shop, creating, constructing, and above all, learning.”

”Tron[co]” by Diana Fierro, pc: Fierro

Sustainable furniture, particularly pieces that repurpose what would otherwise be considered waste, is honored with an award sponsored by another local architecture firm, Studio 2G. Their Cradle-to-Cradle award was awarded to Diana Fierro of Emily White’s fifth-year thesis studio.

For her piece, “Tron[co],” Fierro burned logs for about three hours, "giving the straight chainsaw cuts natural charred arches.” This “exhilarating” process required a close eye to keep the fire controlled and ensure it spread evenly for structural stability.

”Wunder” by Eloise Hides, pc: Hides

MYLR, a local architecture and design gallery and bookstore, sponsored the Modernist Award, which was won by Eloise Hides, a fifth year in Dale Clifford’s thesis studio.

Hides wanted to “bring flexibility and freedom to indoor play while retaining an aesthetic form for the home.” The construction process initially felt out of her comfort zone but was “an incredible learning process that [she] grew to love.” p>

“I Wanna Rock and Roll all Nite” by Christian Gibson, pc: Gibson

This year’s Dr. Daniel Lewis: Plein Aire Award was won by fifth-year thesis student Christian Gibson in Doug Jackson’s studio. He has studied addiction and recovery, with the intent to “create a chair [he’d] be addicted to sitting in.”

Reflecting the burden that addicted people carry "throughout their life on their journey of recovery,” it also features an aspect of wearability.

“Home from Work,” by Bryan Suzuki, pc: Suzuki

Another local firm featured in this year’s Vellum is ga+d, sponsoring the Contemporary Award, won by Bryan Suzuki, also in Doug Jackson’s studio. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Suzuki’s piece looks at where the boundary between work and home is. Bent steel tubing "[ties] together the issues between private and public, domesticity and servitude,” Suzuki explained. “Through its uneasy juxtaposition of office and wardrobe, ‘Home from Work’ begs the question, who can work at a time like this?”

Jack White of Danny Wills’ studio was awarded the CWA Craftsmanship Award, and Niles Wertz from Meredith Sattler’s studio won the DRD: Special Timber Award.

The People’s Choice Awards, selected by public vote, were awarded to:

    • Korte from Tom di Santo’s studio.
    • Ella Kawamoto, a fourth-year architecture student, and Michael Daskarolis, a fourth-year construction management student.

Vellum 20 also featured a series of book awards. The M:oME Book Awards were awarded to:

    • Jess Malouf from Tom di Santo’s studio.
    • Daniel Feldman from Brent Freeby’s studio.

The Flux Design Book Awards were presented to:

    • Katherine Neuner of Brian Osborn’s studio.
    • Kai Parel-Sewell of Ansgar Killing’s studio.

The RNT Book Award was presented to Alex Hagen from Meredith Sattler’s studio. Xavier Aguon from Dale Clifford’s studio was awarded the Satellite of Love Book Award. The Vellum Prize was presented to William Fallini-Haas in Brian Osborn’s studio.

Honorable Mentions included:

    • Maddie Karduna of Tom di Santo’s studio.
    • Megan West from Sandy Stannard and Danny Wills’ studios.
    • Sam Sundstrom from Tom Fowler’s studio.
    • Lauren Sottosanti from Tom Fowler’s studio and Andrew Sime from Alex Hirsig’s studio.

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