Mac Collins portrait

What’s Next for UK-based Designer and Artist Mac Collins?

After centering storytelling and craft in wildly successful collections, the designer is getting ready to take his next steps.

When Mac Collins received the Emerging Design Medal at September’s London Design Festival, few were surprised. The award recognizes designers who make impressive strides within the first five years of their career, and for Collins that career-launching debut was his Iklwa Chair. Made during his final year studying 3D design at Northumbria University, the chair was expanded into a three-piece furniture collection in 2020 and put into production by the UK-based manufacturer Benchmark just two years after he received his undergraduate degree.

The thronelike chair, which is now available in the United States through retailer Design Within Reach, is instantly recognizable: Originally designed in vibrant blue, it emerged from Collins’s exploration of the materials, craft traditions, and ideas around Afrofuturism, and from his British Jamaican heritage. The name refers to a type of spear traditionally used by the Zulu people and is designed to be unapologetically imposing and confer power to the person sitting on it, a notion born out of the powerlessness the designer felt while researching the transatlantic slave trade. “I am interested in how objects and furniture can affect how we feel and what thoughts can be evoked through the way we sit and the forms that surround us,” he says.

mac collins portrait
British furniture and object designer Mac Collins received his undergraduate degree in 3D design with a specialization in product and furniture from Northumbria University in Newcastle. Since graduating in 2018, he has collaborated with manufacturers in the UK and abroad, as well as lecturing at his former university, while supporting initiatives such as Design Can, which seeks to address the sector’s lack of diversity. COURTESY MAC COLLINS

Iklwa captured people’s attention not only because of its craft, but because of its personal nature. “I have been bringing together a range of influences, from stories told by older generations in my family, photos of my family, and music, all of which I have been combining to set a landscape or scene for the furniture that I design,” Collins explains. “The objects exist within these generations-old stories, and I imagine how the characters may have interacted with them within these idealized accounts.” 

Iklwa chair in brown-red wood on simple background
Designed in collaboration with furniture maker Benchmark, the designer’s Iklwa chair has since been turned into a three-piece furniture collection consisting of two sizes of chairs and a stool. COURTESY MAC COLLINS

Now based in three cities—London, Nottingham, and Newcastle—Collins is in high demand, and his work is retaining this strong sense of narrative as it evolves and as he broadens his references as well as the scales and mediums in which he works. 

Recent projects range from rugs inspired by furniture off-cuts for the brand Floor Story to a chair and table for The New Craftsmen Gallery inspired by a 2,000-year-old Roman statue. (Collins made the set during a residency at Holkham Hall, a country house in Norfolk, for an exhibition called A Portrait of Place.) This year, he created some chunky pine fruit bowls for the new Finnish brand Vaarnii, whose inaugural collection also includes pieces by Philippe Malouin, Industrial Facility, Kwangho Lee, and Max Lamb. “I imagined these being the most dominant objects on any surface,” Collins says. 

Mid armchair pink wood, simple background
The Mid Armchair showcases Collins’s attention to both color and craft, evoking a sense of midcentury Scandinavian design while empowering the user who sits in it. COURTESY MAC COLLINS
low stool in pink wood on simple background
Collins designed this low stool to offer sitters a new perspective on their spaces. The simple, yet monumental forms are inspired by both Classical architecture and West African Senufo stools. COURTESY MAC COLLINS

For Discovered, an exhibition by the American Hardwood Export Council at London’s Design Museum in September, he designed Concur, a cherrywood lounge chair with an accompanying bookrest that reflects his feelings about the COVID-19 lockdowns. “The word isolation for me had always had positive connotations, but during the pandemic the reality was obviously negative. I wanted to reromanticize that idea of being secluded, so this was designed as the perfect chair I wished I’d had during that time,” he explains. The piece has already been acquired for the Design Museum’s permanent collection. 

While storytelling remains heavily intertwined in his work, Collins is keen to reengage his connection with making. “A lot of the projects I’ve done so far have been geared up to some sort of level of production, but I’d like to spend some time back in my workshop making things and exploring new materials, perhaps creating installation- and experience-driven projects,” he says. “I’d like to have the chance to experiment again.” Before his next steps, he intends to slow down. With a currently undisclosed project in the pipeline for next year, we may not have to wait long to see what comes next. 

two small pine wood bowls
Designed in collaboration with furniture maker Benchmark, the designer’s Iklwa chair (top) has since been turned into a three-piece furniture collection consisting of two sizes of chairs and a stool. In addition to furniture, Collins has designed a variety of small home accessories, including bowls (bottom) for the new Finnish furniture company, Vaarnii. COURTESY MAC COLLINS

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