Most people who set fire to their work tend to be pretty much, uh, over it. For Kaspar Hamacher, it's just the start of a new piece. Hamacher, a 32-year-old Belgian furniture maker, describes his process of design-by-conflagration as "sculpting with the elements".
In 2010, after finding Brussels way too cosmopolitan for his tastes, Hamacher retreated to the Belgian countryside, where he hit his stride making furniture from materials sourced from the nearby woods. His most well-known series, Ausgebrannt ("burnt out"), uses fire to sculpt wood into stools. Each piece begins as a stump, which Hamacher stuffs with newspaper and sets on fire. Using a long tube to blow air on certain parts of the wood, he's able to control the pattern of the burning, coaxing the form of a stool from the mass — a bit like a glass blower. Then, he douses the whole thing in water and sands down the charred exterior.
Hamacher falls on the folksy end of the "aleatoric design" spectrum, an emerging term that refers to designers who use physical phenomena — and pure chance — to determine the form of an object. Another great example? Jólan van der Wiel, the Dutch designer who uses giant magnets to sculpt chairs. Or, if you're on the pyrotechnic beat, the work of Maarten Baas — who torches famous pieces of furniture and then sells it.