Maker Monday: An ASPIRE Exclusive Interview With Mona Chun

As a recent addition to the mebl team, Mona Chun has brought passion and a decade of experience to the Transforming Furniture brand. Mebl prides itself on sticking to their roots while “championing the magic of artisans as they transform used wood and metal into new furniture.” Sustainability is an important part of any industry, especially home furnishings, and Mona and mebl are championing this by being an active member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Mebl has been featured in many major publications such as Luxe Interiors + Design and Architectural Digest. Introducing this week’s Maker Monday, Mona Chun of mebl | Transforming Furniture.

“Old plastics are really attractive to me, with such beautiful qualities as translucency, color and durability.” Notes artisan Kim Markel who “creates furniture out of eyeglass lenses that were produced with defects, rendering them unusable.” Find more at mebl | Transforming Furniture.

Andrew Joseph: Style or Design icon?
Mona Chun: Marimekko! I am obsessed with graphic prints, vibrant color, textures and shapes. On my way to Estonia a few years ago, I made a stop in Helsinki just to visit the Marimekko HQ and soak in Finnish design and architecture. I have calendar reminders for work meetings, to call my dad every Sunday and for my kids’ activities, but the only time I ever set one for myself was to remember to shop on the opening day of the first Uniqlo x Marimekko collab!

Andrew: Favorite place to see art?
Mona: The streets! I grew up in New York in the 70s when graffiti represented our city’s fiscal hardship but I’ve learned to appreciate the vibrancy and relevancy that street art brings to a city. It is a form of creative expression that is accessible to all and can surprise you at the turn of a corner, whether you’re seeking it out or running to catch the subway. It also often carries a powerful social justice message that speaks for the community around it. I recommend street art tours in Lisbon, Rio de Janiero, Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and anywhere you can find them!

Materials can have a soul and furniture can have a story. Dredged-up logs, old docks and other historic reclaimed woods from Charleston and the low country of South Carolina are transformed into tables by Landrum Tables at mebl | Transforming Furniture.

Andrew: What might the design world look like in 10 years?
Mona: My dream is that sustainability is the driving force behind all design in 10 years. We are facing a climate crisis right now that will have a profound impact on our earth, weather, animals and communities. People have heard about ecotourism, eating local and consuming less fast fashion. The design industry is increasingly thinking about green- and well-building. But these movements need to be fast-tracked and mainstreamed. We need to end the “take-use-discard” way of thinking: starting from the design process and using sustainable materials, to creating durable and high quality products, to “circular” solutions for end-of-life use and reducing landfill, such as take-back, sharing or rental programs or systems for refurbishing, re-use or recycling parts. People do want sustainable solutions and environments; everyone selling them products, homes, spaces and ideas need to adapt for long-term business success as well as systems change.

This bold piece is the Milwaukee Modern Table. The statement table is constructed from old yardsticks, soda crates with an adjoining single leg by Milwaukee Modern and the semi-matching colorful metal chairs are discarded oil cans made by From the Source.

Andrew: What is one thing no one knows about you?
Mona: My engagement/wedding ring is a $6 acrylic MOMA Design Store find. On the first date with my now-husband 500 years ago, I wore a ring made out of a “Moxie” bottle cap. Soon after, I told him he couldn’t buy me any piece of jewelry that cost more than $25 and to meet my specs, he tracked down the designer and bought out the whole collection of bottle cap rings from the shop at the Art Institute of Chicago. While my budget is now adjusted for inflation, I still beeline straight to a modern art museum’s design shop in every city I visit for fun, unique jewelry-even better if it’s made of recycled materials!

Andrew: Must have clothing item everyone should have?
Mona: You guessed it, statement jewelry! Back in the days when we used to gather and change out of our pajamas, I’d often have people tell me, “I couldn’t pull that necklace off.” I’d tell them they absolutely could. Just wear it, believe it and own it. You are every bit as awesome as that bold necklace you want to wear!

Look at these colorful Dlanni Nightstands! Artisan Hamed Ouattara from Burkina Faso crafts these gorgeous Dlanni nightstands from discarded oil barrels.

Andrew: Least favorite color?
Mona: Beige hands down. I just finished watching Mindy Kaling’s “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix. At one point, the budding exuberant actress Eleanor loses her mojo and starts to wear only beige to represent her sadness and loss. That’s exactly how I see beige. To me, it’s a color with no soul.

Andrew: Who is a contemporary inspiration in your field?
Mona: mebl’s roots are in championing the magic of artisans as they transform used wood and metal into new furniture. We had been weighing whether to expand into plastic collections, when we came across Kim Markel’s pieces made from old eyeglasses, lunch trays and soda bottles. It was love at first sight! Her pieces are luminous and elegant, refined while playful. Kim turns materials that would have stayed in landfills for generations into high-quality, stunning furniture, and in this politically fraught moment, this represents the optimism and hope in design that I need.

About The Maker | Mona Chun is the Chief Operating and Sustainability Officer for mebl | Transforming Furniture. She joined mebl recently to marry her decades of experience in social justice and social change with her love for design. After years leading global human rights organizations, Mona too, was ready for a transformation, just like the wood, metal and plastic reimagined into beautiful, high-quality furniture featured at mebl. She has big ambitions to create a sustainability revolution in the furniture industry!

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine. See more of his work here.

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