UtoPia and Ütility: Fantasy and functionality all in one

Pia1When asked why she combined three different materials for her graduation show at the RCA, Pia Wüstenberg replies that the art scene being already very crowded, she had to be inventive and original in order to make a big splash. Besides, she is always up for a challenge. Yet, I cannot help wonder how much of her personal history dictated the way she tackled the material and produced her finished piece.

Big birdsPia was born to a German father and a Finnish mother. She grew up in the countryside near Hamburg but would spend all her holidays in Finland. She says that having had a bicultural upbringing gave her immense freedom but also a restlessness at heart. At 15, sent on a language trip to England, she decided to stay. Two years later, she enrolled at the SIAD (now known as the University for the Creative Arts) in Farnham and did a foundation course in glass, metal and ceramics where she was tutored by Colin Webster. Her parents had given her their benediction but she had to make good on her promise to work efficiently which suited her personality just fine. Then she signed up for a BA in Furniture Design and Craftsmanship at Bucks New University. A hands-on and multi-disciplinary course which enabled her to try her hand at glass, ceramic and wood all at once.

Paper Bracelet DetailIn 2008, she returned to Finland to pursue her art in the quiet beauty of the countryside. She loves roaming freely in nature. She feels that it’s only when the mind is freed that beautiful accidents happen. There, she found local craftsmen more approachable than in England where they tend to think of themselves more as artists in their own right. In any case, she struck collaborations with fellow countrymen and women who turn wood or make ceramic plates in their spare time and who were happy to accommodate her wishes. Nevertheless, it soon became obvious that in order to develop her skills and push her limits, she would have to go back to England. In 2009, she was accepted at the Royal College of Arts. There, she continued her research into crafts and contemporary culture by taking on an MA course in Design Products. As she, rightly points out, it is the experienced people you meet at university that make all the difference and she indeed met very influential, bright and original people there.


It was a wonderful and exhilarating time to be at the RCA as her teachers were reputable designers and practising professionals who had nothing to prove to the world and who therefore were very enthusiastic and happy to work with students brimming with crazy and ludicrous ideas. Her first year was taught by Dutch designer Jurgen Bey and the second year, Daniel Charny and Roberto Feo led two different platforms.

Processed paper trestlesJurgen Bey is a socially responsible person. He took his students to Design inDaba in Cape Town, South Africa, an annual cultural conference also referred to as  the “Conference of Creativity”. This is turn, triggered a collaboration with Jan Jamieson from Novello Alpaca Farm. Alpaca is a rare and luxurious fibre but as the Alpaca ages, it produces lower quality fibres. Pia got involved in a project that consisted of finding applications for these lower quality fibres in interior products and furnishings. This sort of project encompasses everything Pia feels passionate about: trying her hand at new and unconventional materials, being resourceful and whenever possible upcycling material that would otherwise be discarded. While a student at the RCA, she experimented with paper that would otherwise have been disposed of and developed the concept of processed paper. By rolling and gluing paper, Pia created a raw material which she then took into her wood workshop, where it was handled and made into various objects such as lights, bowls, vessels, furniture etc.

CuffsJurgen Bey was always up for new ludicrous, sometimes impractical, ideas that would get his students’ minds bubbling. His teaching had certainly a great impact on Pia as she multiplied the experiences with various materials (paper products in Almehabad, India, paper jewels with Hina Thibaud) and struck varied collaborations from perfume bottle design to cuffs with up and coming jewel designer Chris Gelinas. For her graduation show, Pia multiplied the challenges. She presented Product ID: a collection of 5 vessels from the most basic (ceramic, glass, wood) to the most complex materials (processed paper, graphite lid and concrete). Because of the various materials involved, there were a lot of technicalities in making the pieces-how to fit different components together and to disassemble them as we please-for instance. It also meant that she had to work with a variety of suppliers that she had to find in the first place! In fine, the stacking vessels are three functional items that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye combined or separated. Every material enhancing the others by contrast. A video made by James Maiki shows really well the complexity of the work involved in fitting together the different materials. this video was filmed at Devereux Huskie Glass in Wiltshire.

BarneysThe RCA show was a formidable launching pad for Pia Wüstenberg. Her work was immediately exhibited at the V&AThe Tate and in reputable galleries such as Mint. She made sure to attend all the major shows locally (Craft Central, Design Junction) and internationally (Maison & Objet, Design Shanghai). In 2012, she set up Utopia & Utility (traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design) with her brother as the Business Director, her as the Creative Director and a third person. Utopia & Utility sells all her flagship pieces (the stacking vessels, the processed paper trestles, branch bowls and big birds). Just like Pia oscillated between different materials, she splits her time between Germany, Finland where her business is and London where her heart is. Pia Wüstenberg will take part in The Biennale Interieur in Belgium and in Trame at Trinenale di Milano.


Stacking Vessel



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