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A Designer on the Up: Emmanuel Olunkwa, at Home in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn


A Designer on the Up: Emmanuel Olunkwa, at Home in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

May 24, 2021

When I first met Emmanuel Olunkwa in 2015, he had been in New York for about a year and was working as an intern at Comme des Garçons while pursuing an undergraduate degree at The New School. Since then, he’s held several different jobs in art, fashion, film, and photography. As Emmanuel writes on his website, his work as a director, designer, and writer “brings deep study and surprising connection across culture, fashion, urban landscape, and social ecology.”

Fast forward to 2021: after a stint as an assistant to a major Hollywood producer and then as an editor at Artforum, Emmanuel is now Arts Editor at Pioneer Works, the legendary Red Hook, Brooklyn, arts space and cultural center. He’s also a founding editor of  November Magazine, an online publication featuring interviews with practitioners across art, architecture, philosophy, and critical theory. Oh, and he just completed a masters program in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices at Columbia University’s GSAPP.

Emmanuel recently launched his own line, E&Ko., adding furniture designer to his resume. Here’s a look at his flat, plus a Q & A. Photography by Matthew Williams.

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Above: Emmanuel lives on a tree-lined street in Bed-Stuy, in a two-bedroom flat on the first floor of a pre-war building.

RM: Tell us about the transition from all these other disciplines to furniture making.

EO: I started designing things out of necessity; it’s a form of problem solving. Anything I’m curious about, I pursue. I didn’t know that I could make furniture, but I explored it and it started to come together. I was looking to design my own furniture, but there was a problem—I was getting insane quotes.

RM: But you persisted.

EO: Eventually I found a fabricator who could translate my ideas into 3-d forms.

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Above: “Everyone should have a flower table,” Emmanuel says. The tables—and chairs—are available for purchase on his website and at Picture Room in Brooklyn, the gallery and arts space by Remodelista favorite Sandeep Salter.

RM: What’s your guiding principle when it comes to furniture?

EO: Everything should be serious, but fun. Everyone should have a flower table. I made this thing that makes me really happy. When people come over, they’re excited to get to know it—to sit at the flower table.

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Above: “After I designed the flower table, my friends and my mom were like, ‘You gotta design chairs now!’ Then it was about figuring out how these objects fit together,” Emmanuel says.
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Above: A pulled-back view of Emmanuel’s seating area. The bouquet is from Brooklyn floral design studio Olivee Floral. The mirror and gnome are sculptures by Emmanuel’s upstairs neighbor and best friend, the artist Aria Dean.

RM: Sources of inspiration?

EO: LA designer Shin Okuda of Waka Waka talks about plywood as paper, this blank page, something you can really sculpt. Taking something that is so generic that has the potential to change into something else, that’s completely dependent on your imagination. It’s like a paper crane. The flower table defies its material reality.

RM: You’ve been living in New York since 2014, but you’re originally from LA. Has LA had any influence on these designs?

EO: LA taught me how to move intentionally. You have to know what’s next. You have to have a destination, it’s hard to wander. In LA I was a witness. New York taught me how to take action, that ideating is just step one.

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Above: A painting by Ellen Frank anchors a wall in the living room.
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Above: Emmanuel commissioned furniture designer Sam Stewart to make the sofa.
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Above: A cutout plywood desk wraps around an old-fashioned cast iron radiator.
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Above: A view of Emmanuel’s work station.
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Above: The color story continues in the kitchen, which is put together with restaurant supply store stainless tables.
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Above: In Emmanuel’s bedroom, a small flower table serves as bedside stand.
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Above: An assemblage of collected objects sits atop Emmanuel’s dresser.

For updates about E&Ko., you can follow Emmanuel on Instagram: @wordimagetext

See more new and fresh design:

Roman Holiday: A Top-Floor City Apartment That Channels Mediterranean Summer

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