Speculative objects challenging, questioning and embodying what it means to be present.

In a world designed for the individual experience, what responsibility does design hold in how we engage together, the emotional connections we build, and the memories we make?

This project was awarded the Van Gogh Designs Furniture + Wood Design Graduation Award

Bouba is a multi-medium dining experience critiquing the ways in which objects frame how we exist, how we engage, and the connections  we make through acts of presence.

What would a reality look like that is designed for togetherness, the collective experience rather than the individual?










Bouba is designed to host six participants

I feel that the reality of our new global circumstance has changed us forever. It is one where a grocery run puts us and those closest to us in unprecedented danger. One where safety, if we’re amongst the lucky, is only felt within the confines of our homes. It has left most of us grieving the normalcy and ease that we were very recently accustomed to, craving it, missing it and dreaming of the scenarios in which we may again engage through public and private spheres without paranoia or fear.

It has lead us to reminisce of the beauty and value in the simplicities that our past freedoms evoked – dinners with friends, afternoons at cafés, class, a hug. Within the immensity of unknowns that we currently face lies a trying and beautiful clarity – we now have the ability to recognize what we value in the reality we had before, similar in many ways to the epiphanies that are realized following the loss of a loved one. 

This is the very essence of what Bouba is trying to provoke, the value that lies in presence, and the power our memories hold.


The Circle

It was my goal to create a place of togetherness, where participation and presence is provoked without instruction or guidance. I wanted the physicality of the object itself to speak to a greater meaning, one hinted at through mere observation.

The continuous form offered by the meeting of the benches is motivated by the many implications that the circle offers – equality, cyclicality, balance. I found much guidance by the significance and meaning held by the aboriginal talking circle – a space of equality where individuals share and are listened to through openness and presence. I hoped to create a space within place that binds people together in a moment, where the form itself offers a feeling of enclosure and warmth, where memories are made.
With no head of the table, I intended on designing a hierarchy- less space with a lack of dominance, enabling each participant to take on their natural role.

The all-encompassing back rest is designed as a sensory approach of spacial development, to hold the participants physically together within intimate space - to unify.

The freedoms of form

Bouba’s seating is designed to be multi-functional and playful – a physical representation of the different ways to be together.

Speculative stoneware

how does the vessel impact the experience?

Motivated by the ways in which form impacts how we engage, what shifts could be made to traditional stoneware to motivate presence, ritual, and community?

Round Bottom Cups

By shifting the drinking vessel ever so slightly, I explored the many ways in which round bottom cups impact how we engage in a family style dining experience. The one rule is that the cups were not permitted to be propped up against anything, however asking a fellow diner to hold your cup in times of need was encouraged.

The use of these cups immediately imply that one of our two hands is taken, how do our priorities, awareness, and our perspectives shift in reflection of this? How does it change how we behave with and assist one another? What distractions does it steer us away from? How does it impact our need to express vulnerabilities and ask for help?

Through practice, the round vessels proved a re-introduction of lost rituals. Participants were lead to consider the needs of others, as well as gain comfort in expressing a need for help. Guests served one another, ignored digi-tech, and a follow up questionnaire expressed that participants felt a closer bond to one another following the experience.

If we designed our objects to imply these practices, rather than the individualistic experience, what would our world look like?

The crawl-glaze used on these vessels was introduced as a multi-sensory approach to assist the user in adjusting to these new parameters of engagement.


Solid Aspen Wood

Aspen, a soft hardwood, was selected for its locality and abundance, its minimal grain line, and the softness it provokes.

I wanted to ensure that the visual aesthetic spoke to the poetics of the designs intention; soft, welcoming, community driven.

All joinery is invisible, leading to an air of wonder.


Chartreuse Melton Wool

Melton wool was selected for being a natural fibre, its airbrushed finish, and its visual and physical softness.

It is symbolic of the playfulness that Bouba intends, the natural world, and safety.

Design rooted from an emotional space.

I have found that there is an existing institutional perspective that implies that industrial design should not be personal. I  would argue that industrial design is entirely personal as our designed world literally frames our existence, our realities, how we carry ourselves and how we interact.

Perhaps if we universally taught design to be personally rooted, not purely constructed, and included more of ourselves and our communities into the things we bring into this world, we would actively consider their implications and the consequence of their existence.

Bouba came to exist as the physical interpretation of the epiphanies and realizations that followed my sisters suicide and the cancer diagnosis of one of my closest companions.

It is in many ways a cry for presence, for support, for community and for the acknowledgement of the little things that make this life worth living. It is plea to pull away from the distractions and submerge ourselves in the moments we share, for once they have passed their memory is all that lasts.

Please navigate through the carousel above to view additional images.

Heidi Rey is a Swiss-Canadian designer with a passion for woodworking and soft goods. She is fascinated by the object condition, social engagement, and the ecological perspective within design. She hopes to design with purpose, criticality, playfulness and to challenge the status-quo.