Karen Lee

is a designer based in Portland, OR who focuses on materials and objects.

*object-oriented design*
empathetic + communal objects
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her current body of work engages in objects that redefine their own roles in and relationships to the domestic landscape.

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She leverages traditional craft processes and material combinations to explore new and unexpected forms of communal systems. Because domestic furniture serve as loaded social objects that typically act as an intermediary between people and space, what happens when their intended use becomes obscured or reconfigured?

What sorts of new space or cultural realities are created?

oh, hello

for CV find the wormy shelf :~)

...read less

Maker's Table

Maker's Table was a special dinner event, at which 8 makers and 16 guests shared a meal. Dishware, glassware, furniture, utensils, lighting and textiles were designed and fabricated by the crew of makers. All the objects were taken home by guests after the meal. The maker's sets was exhibited for a month at Nationale.

Featuring works by:
Matthew Abadi
Sarai Black
Tom Bonamici
Parsha Gerayesh
Leah Howell
Karen Lee
Jade Novarino
Carson Terry


Turtle, (Bookshelf)
Wood, Plywood
Nationale, Portland

Proximity is the first collaborative exhibition with Form&Seek Collective and Nationale. The Form&Seek Design Studio focuses on newly developed processes and contemporary craft techniques that prioritize creating unique products and experiences. Featuring work from artists Irina Flore, Ákos Huber, Karen Lee, Laura Papp, and Bilge Nur Saltik, these designers bring together form, function, play and materiality within the gallery space.

Proximity seeks to decode the relationship and meaning between these larger themes and how they manifest themselves in the objects on view. The works seem to be asking if inanimate objects can present with emotive qualities - if so, how can those objects embody human characteristics like empathy, sensitivity, and warmth?

Presented in the show are pieces that contort their form and veer from compositional expectations. In bringing their ideas to life, the five artists push the boundaries of their own craft and methodology, bending it to their will.

Proximity asks for a union between end-user and creator, through which the works on display facilitate a symbiosis between the material and its purpose. In observing these pieces and dissecting them from idea to execution, we as viewers imbue them with our own anthropomorphic traits. In this way, the objects truly come alive.

Pleasure Vessels Protos 1, 2, 3

'Pleasure Vessel Protos 1, 2, 3' consists of turned wooden handles that are wedged within hand blown glass forms.  These cheeky vessels suggest a myriad of uses, inviting users to engage with the sleek forms both suggestively and with great care.  

b. 1991, San Francisco, CA


2020 MFA 3D Design, Sculpture & Ceramics Elective, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI

2013 BFA Textiles with Honors, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

Group Exhibitions

2024 Constellations & Affinities: Selections from the Cranbrook Collection, Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI

2023 Makers' Table, Nationale, Portland OR

2021 Proximity, Nationale, Portland, OR

2021 New York Design Week 2021, JONALD DUDD, NYC

2021 POST, Wasserman Projects, Detroit, MI

2020 Never Normal with Form & Seek, Wasserman Projects, Detroit Design Month, Detroit, MI

2020 Dezeen Virtual Graduate Show, Digital Show

2020 Cranbrook Graduate Degree Exhibition, Digital Show

2019 Experiencing Perspectives, Mercedes Benz Financial Services, Farmington Hills, MI

2019 SUBSTANCE Exhibition with Form & Seek, Detroit Design Month, Detroit, MI

2019 Outreach, Proximity Gallery, Digital Show

2019 Design Mutations, International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), Constellation Award, New York, NY

2018 Define: Materials Group Show, Portland Design Week, Portland, OR

Professional + Academic Experience

2021 (Current) FW Materials Design for Arc'teryx, Portland, OR

2021 (Current) Adjunct Faculty for Material + Product Studies, University of Oregon, Portland, OR

2021 - 2023 Mentor/Thesis Committee for MFA Applied Craft + Design Program, Pacific Northwest College of the Arts, Portland, OR

2021 Contract Materials Designer for NIKE, Accessories, Portland, OR

2021 Co-Instructor for Summer Design Build Workshop for MFA Applied Craft + Design Program, Pacific Northwest College of the Arts, Portland, OR

2021 Contract FW Materials Designer for NIKE, Global Football + Women's Performance (Running, Fitness, Tennis), Portland, OR

2021 Adjunct Faculty for Graduate Color & Materials Design + Crafts and Materials Undergraduate Studies, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI

DCR 485 / DGR 685 Advanced Material Research Methods in Craft and Materials Undergraduate Studies + Color and Materials Graduate Studies

Studio II: Course 602 Brand Dialogues in Color and Materials Graduate Studies

2020 Adjunct Faculty for Graduate Color & Materials Design

Studio III: Course CMD701-A, College for Creative Studies

2019 - 2020 Studio Manager for 3D Department, Cranbrook Academy of Art

2019 - 2020 Student-Led Fabrication Workshop Series Coordinator, Cranbrook Academy of Art

2019 Guest Critic for Industrial Design Class, Lawrence Technical University, Southfield, MI

2018 Guest Thesis Critic for Color, Materials, and Finishes Graduate Department, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI

2013 - 2018 Materials Designer, NIKE Sportswear, Performance Basketball, and Field Sports Footwear, NIKE Inc, Beaverton, OR

Awards & Residencies

2020 Dezeen Awards Longlist for Furniture Design

2020 Cranbrook Art Museum Purchase Prize, Bloomfield Hills, MI

2019 Gere Kavanaugh Design Scholarship, Merit Scholarship, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI

2019 Artist-in-Residence, Conduit, Happy Valley, OR

2019 Constellation Award, International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), New York, NY

2018 Winter Artist-in-Residence, Penland School of Crafts, Asheville, NC

2012 Textron Fellowship Award, Rhode Island School of Design Merit Scholarship, Providence, RI

2012 Leadership Recognition, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI


2020 Sight Unseen Never Normal Feature

2020 Pink Essay Snail Home Feature

2020 Dezeen Awards 2020 Furniture Design

2020 Artsy Editorial Feature

2020 Dezeen Virtual Design Festival Graduate Show

2020 Pink Essay Macaroni for Every Being Feature

2020 Sight Unseen Saturday Selects

2019 DesignCore for Detroit Design Month, SUBSTANCE Exhibition with Form & Seek

Never Normal

Curated and co-organized Never Normal show with Form&Seek in partnership with Wasserman Projects for 2020 Detroit Month of Design.

Never Normal is an exhibition that expresses the ever-changing viewpoint of the designer’s perspective on the built world. The future now seems inscrutable, provoking us to think of the possibilities and opportunities for change in human behaviors and our environment. Looking away from the conventional means of solving problems, the works in this exhibition seek to reexamine and reevaluate our personal relationships to our domestic landscape. Through craft or making, these designers are able to express value, preciousness, and care that offer intuitive moments of clarity on contemporary issues in response to the needs of a society in flux.

This exhibition features over 20 Detroit-based and connected designers:

Aaron Blendowski, Annie Meyer, Aratani Fay (Ayako Aratani & Evan Fay), Bilge Nur Saltik, Brett Evans & Karen Lee, Cody Norman, Donut Shop, Ebitenyefa Baralaye, END Studio (Elise DeChard, Sophie Yan, Kapish Kaur Cheema), EXTENTS, Hayden Richer, Irina Flore, Joonghan Bae, Joseph Parr, Kyle Joseph, Mark Dineen, Michael Neville, Nicholas Tilma, Phoebe Kuo, Simon Anton, Studio Herron, SUBSTUDIO (Hannah Dewhirst & Ingrid Schmidt), Sunny Kim.

Shown alongside works from artists: John Dante Bianchi, Maritza Caneca, Dorota & Steve Coy, Chris Hyndman, Summer Wheat, Adrian Wong, and Marela Zacarias.

Photo Credit: Clare Gatto

Untitled (Macaroni for Every Being)

In collaboration with Brett Evans
Wood, Ceramic
56" x 56" x 21.5"

Untitled (Macaroni for Every Being) attempts to find new communal object systems that oscillate between our known human understanding of them and that of the objects’ experience of inhabiting those structures. Some of these structural design experiments explore the ‘in-betweenness’ of objects in terms of their value as both functional furniture and as objects that can possess their own agency. ​With the end applications ranging from table top vessels to full scale ambiguous forms that could potentially be a low table, all objects utilize a mixture of traditional materials wood and ceramic.

Culture Club v2

Wood, Glass, Ceramic
40” x 14” x 34"

Culture Club v2 leverages traditional vessel making processes to explore nested systems within objects.

Part of Permanent Collection at Cranbrook Art Museum

Culture Club v1

Wood, Glass, Ceramic

Culture Club v1 aims to explore ideas of use-value through stacked radially symmetrical vessel forms.

Filtration Tests

Glass, Metal, Assorted Rocks

define: material

Curated and exhibited a group show define: material for Portland Design Week 2018 with Laura Wade.

Laura Wade
Parsha Gerayesh
Jacqueline Lefferts
Frank McGovern
Sam Newman
Georgina Kerr Mcdonald