The creations designed by Cal Poly students were displayed in the old Ross building on Nov. 4, 2023, for the Vellum Furniture Design Exhibition. Jada Griffith / Mustang News

Once a year the San Luis Obispo firm, Vellum Design Build, and Cal Poly’s Architecture and Environmental Design department partner up to host a two day event called the Vellum Furniture Design Exhibition.

“Vellum is a furniture competition, it’s also a heuristic device,” Cal Poly architecture professor Tom Di Santo said. “It’s classic ‘learn by doing.’”

Di Santo has been organizing Vellum since its beginning in 2003.

“So I started 20 years ago, this is the 20th Vellum,” Di Santo said. “I think furniture is a great way for architects to learn in a way that they might not with a typical academic project. You know, they have a real timeline, there’s a deadline, there’s a real budget, right? It’s whatever they can afford. There’s no grants.”

Since students acquired materials with their own budget, many found creative solutions to find the necessary resources to build their model.

“So I created an oak wood bench that could also be used as a coffee table,” architecture senior Mariah Boche said.

Boche participated in this year’s Vellum competition and created an oak wood bench that could also be used as a coffee table.

Architecture Senior Mariah Boche sat on her oak wood bench which she designed for the competition. Jada Griffith / Mustang News

“I actually extracted the materials myself.” Boche said. “I went to my grandparent’s house that had a fallen oak tree and I used a chainsaw and a lot of labor. And I extracted this slab of wood and from there, I used the Cal Poly workshop facilities to construct it into a furniture piece.”

The participants in Vellum are typically all architecture students. Some students participate on the side in addition to their other school work, while others are enrolled in architecture studios where the class is designed to build a piece of furniture for the competition.

Architecture professor Brent Freeby had his class participate in the competition. 

“I think it’s absolutely essential for architects to understand how materials go together,” Freeby said. “And the more they understand about how things go together, how materials respond, the better designer they’re going to be. And so it’s a low stakes opportunity for them to learn about tools to maybe make a few mistakes, but just get in there experimenting with materials and making things.” 

Architecture junior Lily Hanna was enrolled in Freeby’s class and built a beacon for the competition.

“I think just in the process of making it, it’s made me realize how much of our lives is based on design,” Hanna said. “And so I think the opportunity to participate in something like this is kind of giving us that gateway to kind of realize like, oh, architecture is a form of design. And so is furniture making, so is clothing making and all these other things. So it’s kind of a great way to tie all of that together.”

At the end of the competition a jury comes together to grant awards to some of the entries.

“We have over 200 amazing pieces of furniture they’ve built over the course of a half a quarter and we bring in a jury from all over the United States,” Di Santo said.

The winner of the competition wins a trip to Milan, Italy in April for the Salone Internazionale Del Mobile, the world’s largest trade fair that showcases the latest furniture and design from countries around the world .

Other winners received scholarships while the runner-ups won different books.

This year’s winner was Hannah Scoggins who created a de-stressed chair.

The winning design of the Vellum competition, a de-stressed chair by Hannah Scoggins. Jada Griffith / Mustang News

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