AMES, Iowa — Two Iowa State University industrial design students are finalists in the “Design for Production” category of the 2019 AWFS Fresh Wood student furniture competition.

Hosted by the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers, the biennial competition highlights outstanding construction and design achievements by students in high school and postsecondary woodworking or related programs in North America.

Industrial design seniors Samuel Christianson, Mason City, and Nathan Miklo, Arnolds Park, entered an innovative “flat-pack” chair they designed as a spring 2019 Focus Grant project at Iowa State. Their work will be displayed in the Fresh Wood exhibition at the 2019 AWFS Fair, July 17-20 in Las Vegas.

Christianson, Miklo and Matthew Obbink, a lecturer in industrial design who served as their faculty advisor on the project, each will receive free fair entry, airfare and lodging to attend the event. Awards will be announced Friday, July 19.

Essential elements

The students created a chair that could occupy different spaces (dining room, living room, home office, etc.) and serve different needs, Christianson said. The primary goal of the project “was to strip what ‘design’ is down to its most essential elements. We wanted a chair that uses the least number of parts possible to cut down on future production costs and at the same time could be elegant and provide simple luxury for everyone.”

The team’s “72.5 Chair” has long walnut legs joined with floating tenon joints, and a back and seat made of one piece of leather sandwiched between two pieces of baltic birch plywood. One of the biggest challenges the students faced was finding a way to bend the plywood without breaking it, they said.

“From the beginning, we loved the idea of the seat bending near the middle, but all of our early prototypes used only plywood, which led to lots of breakage,” Christianson said. “We questioned the longevity of just kerfing (cutting slots into the wood to allow it to flex, which makes it less strong) and started looking at materials that could withstand thousands of bends. We decided leather could provide this flexibility.”

The students made half a dozen small models and four large-scale models to test and finalize their design, which they displayed in the university’s annual Focus Grant Exhibit in April. Obbink offered guidance on leg joinery, measurements and processing of the raw materials, Miklo said.

“Matt has a very deep knowledge of furniture design and practical experience, which helped us transform our design from something on paper to a final product that is extremely robust,” he said.

“With this flat-pack chair — meaning it can be disassembled and shipped easily — these students truly took the less-is-more approach,” said Obbink, who was a finalist in the 2003 Fresh Wood competition as an integrated studio arts major at Iowa State.

“The two-piece base effortlessly slides and locks together. Then the seat and back assembly easily bends to conform and lock into the base structure. Sam and Nate worked so well together; I just showed them the tools and techniques needed, and they took the reins. For two students with little to no prior woodworking experience, they blew me away.”

While at the AWFS Fair, Christianson and Miklo will have a chance to attend educational seminars and network with industry professionals.

“There is nothing more inspiring than being able to talk to people who are more experienced than we are at woodworking and gain knowledge through exposure,” Christianson said.


Sam Christianson, Industrial Design senior, samueljc@iastate.edu
Nathan Miklo, Industrial Design senior, nmiklo@iastate.edu
Matt Obbink, Industrial Design, (515) 450-3994, obbinker@iastate.edu
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289, hsauer@iastate.edu