HotelTonight recruits Sight Unseen to curate a series of capsule design residencies

Whittle Me This

It’s no secret that a change of scenery can do wonders when it comes to alleviating a creative block. Throughout history, some of the most renowned artists, musicians, and writers have sought refuge by fleeing the monotony of their regular lives. While the obvious trope has long been to escape the environmental and social pressures of the big city and to set up shop in remote locales, many have found solace in less likely places: a subway car at rush hour or even one’s own shower.

Often all that’s really necessary is the ability to pull one’s self out of daily habits and yet, the power of travel—getting away—continues to be an effective means of attaining perspective and literal distance.

Chris Wolston in New Orleans (Courtesy HotelTonight)

Eny Lee Parker in Nashville (Courtesy HotelTonight)

Chen Chen in Portland (Courtesy HotelTonight)

Tapping into the potential of this quality, HotelTonight has developed clever creative initiates that make use of its main commodity: hotel rooms. This summer, the reservations app giant—recently acquired by Airbnb—teamed with celebrated design publication and incubator Sight Unseen to envision a new type of capsule residency program. Three cutting-edge New York talents were sent to three diverse U.S. cities and given a hotel room for three nights.

Charged with the task of producing a bespoke object that would reflect the locale, the designers transformed their respective suites into temporary studios. They could only use tools and materials brought in a carry-on or found in situ. One went out looking for material culture artifacts while another went deep into the nearby forests of their allocated city to source natural matter endemic to the area.

Chen Chen's tools (Courtesy HotelTonight)

Eny Lee's first prototypes (Courtesy HotelTonight)

Chris Wolston's main material: sourced Mardi Gras beads (Courtesy HotelTonight)

While New York and Colombia-based talent Chris Wolston delved into the kitsch ephemera of New Orleans’s Mardi Gradi culture—producing a lamp out of plastic beads with a toaster oven, Brooklyn’s Chen Chen trekked deep into Portland’s adjacent wilderness to cull plant material and extract natural polymers, but to also collect synthetic waste. “Portland is the City of Roses, the home of Nike and Adidas and surrounded by Douglas Fir forests,” he explained. “My object is a woven vessel of entwined vines, grasses, and shoelaces stuffed with rose petals and sealed with pine pitch. It is as much a visual story as a scent story.”

Pine Rose Censer by Chen Chen (Balarama Heller)

Garlic Braid Wall Hanging by Eny Lee Parker (Balarama Heller)

Serpentina Lamp by Chris Wolston (Balarama Heller)

In Nashville, fellow Brooklynite Eny Lee Parker began by exploring the town’s ample offering of antique shops but was ultimately drawn to its equestrian heritage. She created a decorative pendant that incorporates horsehair in different knots.

In many ways, this rapid, experimental, and ad hoc approach to object-making—that would have not only made MacGyver proud—revealed the spirit and dexterity of these three similar yet different talents. As contrasted demonstrations of their respective interests and methodologies, the distinct objects are for sale, with proceeds benefiting charity, on Sight Unseen’s and each designers’ websites.