Design Changemakers 2022: Designer Eny Lee Parker Is Forging Her Own Career Path
Apartment Therapy’s Changemakers Class of 2022 is made up of 15 of the most talented and dynamic people (or duos or trios) working in the design world. This year’s honorees are all about connecting, collaborating, and disrupting the industry to steer the collective design conversation towards innovation and a better future. See the rest of the list here.
Who: Eny Lee Parker, multidisciplinary designer
Where to follow her: Instagram at @enyleeparker
Eny Lee Parker is best known for her Instagram-famous ceramic lamps, which feature chunky, clay bases out of which globe lightbulbs seem to sprout. However, she’s not just a lamp designer — nor has she let the traditional product designer mold shape her career. Instead, Parker’s success reveals a lot about her unconventional path. When Parker was invited to exhibit at Sight Unseen OFFSITE in 2017, the Savannah College of Art and Design graduate student didn’t realize it was a trade show and hadn’t even priced her work. Her dusty-pink ceramics-filled booth caught buyers’ eyes though, and when orders started rolling in, she improvised — and landed herself a New York Times profile in the process.
After her initial success, Parker has continued to design innovative lamps, but she’s also experimented in other realms and is always, always working with new silhouettes and textures. Recently, Parker created a line of earrings with her mom, and she co-designed rugs for Domino. Although she doesn’t believe in staying true to a singular “design language,” Parker does recognize that her work has a playful-yet-fragile ethos running through it. Her pieces are “sensitive,” she says. “You have to be more aware of your presence in the room. It’s not something that you can be rough with or just throw it around.”
Parker’s latest pieces are more like sculptures. For instance, her twist column light, a more grandiose, somewhat-whimsical collaboration with Objective Gallery that debuted at Miami Design Week 2021, is more art than object. “It’s phenomenal,” she says. “My team did such a great job of figuring out how to make it work.”
Working with five employees out of her studio in Queens, Parker says she wants to be known for how she works with her team — not just the objects she designs. “New York doesn’t have to be brutal; artists and designers don’t have to have a big ego to be successful,” she says. “I think that people spend so much time working… we should care about making [work] a safe environment and a place where people can grow and be challenged and supported.”
Parker’s wish to foster a creative environment has also manifested itself in her most recent endeavor, an apartment/showroom/meeting space called Apartment 7x. Parker plans to use the space to show clients her works in-situ and to host dinners for like-minded creatives. “It’s important for me to really plug in and get different perspectives from my fellow designers and artists and friends,” she says. Here, Parker shares more insight about her work and how she plans to make creative connections a reality at Apartment 7x.
Apartment Therapy: What do you remember as being your design inspirations growing up?
Eny Lee Parker: I always grew up being encouraged to be expressive. I used to draw a lot. I went to an art portfolio high school, and I was focused on painting and illustrations. When I was in high school, one of my favorite things was to order art college catalogs. Each was a body of work from students who were in art school; I always felt like it was really fresh and different — not things that you would find in magazines or websites. It wasn’t until I started painting interiors as a storyboard that a professor suggested looking into interior design.
AT: What is your inspiration now?
ELP: I really love looking through The Met archives, especially their B.C. jewelry collection. Antique jewelry, to me, is really fascinating because there are geometric shapes, but they feel so organic because they are handmade; there’s a softness to the work that I really like.
AT: If you could use three words to describe your work or style, what would they be?
ELP: Soft, sensitive, and playful.
AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2021?
ELP: I just recently did a show in Design Miami with Objective Gallery, and that was my first time doing truly collectible pieces. That was really fun. I have this twist column light that is phenomenal. I’m known for my lamps, but I would say this is a piece that I really like — and I feel like it’s a little more me — because it has this abstract geometry to it but it’s still made from soft materials. It’s still lighting, and it glows, but it has that juxtapositions of a very rigid shape but also then kind of a soft feel to it.
AT: Where do you see the design world going in 2022?
ELP: There is a really high demand for NFTs and digital works — all of those things are really blooming, but I think that also results in people craving visceral things that are handmade — things that are intimate and use natural materials. I don’t think that the handmade aspect of [design] is going to go away.
AT: Any big plans for 2022 or beyond you can share with us?
ELP: One of them is called Apartment 7x, and the concept is for us to place some of the works here in the space, so that clients can come see them in-situation. And it’s also about fostering a creative environment. We’re actually hosting our first dinner with an incredible sous-chef named Scott Murray, who does research and development relating to food and plays with fermentation. So Apartment 7x is also about meeting new and creative people who want to try out projects, and the space is to bring those people together.
Interview has been edited and condensed.