Working out of a barn in Markham, Ontario, just north of Toronto, siblings John and Kevin Watts craft experimental objects that seemingly teem with life. Since debuting at the 2018 Interior Design Show, their collaborative, multihyphenate practice Susan for Susan has patented their technique and use of workaday materials to produce a host of vibrant textured furnishings that trace the contours between function and ideation, otherworldly statement pieces and collectible design.
BY: EVAN PAVKA
John and Kevin Watts’ early trials with acetone on polystyrene began while Kevin was in architecture school and John was studying advertising. “You drop the acetone onto the polystyrene and it becomes out of your control,” John explains of their (initially) intuitive approach. “We eventually learned to manipulate it to create the shapes we wanted.”
When the volatile liquid meets the solid cube, a void is created from the reaction as the acetone eats away the polystyrene. A tinted sand and cement mixture is then poured into the negative space and left to cure, eventually forming the final sculptural item—a concrete side table, chair, light fixture or bench.
A syringe is used to inject the acetone precisely for more calculated and bespoke effects. The result is a controlled patterning of burl-like forms that “look as natural as possible” and deliberately recall “fungi, stalactites and more,” says John.
High-profile collaborations with the likes of American designer Kelly Wearstler and the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto (where they’ll be showing in 2022) help to further push their technical and conceptual process, allowing the studio to “make things we normally wouldn’t be allowed to make,” says John.