Emmanuel Olunkwa Designs Functional Furniture With His Intuition

Emmanuel Olunkwa started designing furniture out of necessity. Last summer, the 27-year-old multidisciplinary artist found himself living alone in a space filled with pieces that weren’t his own—most of the furniture was inherited from a friend who had moved—and didn’t feel like a reflection of himself as a whole person. He was eager to furnish his Stuyvesant Heights, Brooklyn, apartment with more pieces that would accent the architecture, activate the space, and make it more comfortable. But what was readily available didn’t appeal to his taste, and he had a tight budget to work with. “I feel like I’ve lived here long enough now that I understand what I wanted the room and these things to do, even knowing how to assert myself in it,” he says.

So in between working as an editor at Pioneer Works and focusing on his studies at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, Emmanuel spent the summer meditating on “what it means to make furniture.” Like many individuals during the pandemic, he used the temporary period of isolation as an opportunity to fully explore his ideas and see what materialized from them. As someone who thinks very critically, Emmanuel no longer wanted to to be surrounded with redundant objects that didn’t lure him or foster a symbiotic relationship.

A set of Emmanuel Olunkwa’s mini tables.

Photo: Jasmine Clarke

“People don’t actually know why they like things; they just throw themselves into purchasing these objects,” he explains. “I’m guilty of it too, but I feel like when you first move into a place, you’re so overly enthusiastic and excited by the prospect of having this new space that you can connect with immediately, when you really need to spend time with it before you make any decisions.”

One day while he was brainstorming designs for a table, Emmanuel happened to come across a post on Instagram of an artist sewing flower patches, and that was the definitive moment when he knew he had found the silhouette. Even though flowers seem to be trending in art and design right now, Emmanuel wasn’t paying attention to any of that. In fact, he even told me that “references do not drive my desires; it’s more my imagination.” Emmanuel’s approach stems from an intuitive place, so he thinks through shapes and colors. For him, the shape of a flower was the perfect representation for the craft table that he was envisioning.

E&Ko.’s standard table made out of birch plywood.

Photo: Jasmine Clarke