Hybrid Furniture Bridging the Analog and Digital Worlds

Francois' AT-UM Horizon Table

Nearly ten years ago, UM Project owner François Chambord found his life’s calling: to design and create modern and innovative furniture. He applied his fervor for user-centric design to AT-UM, his fusion of Horizon with the traditional desk for a new kind of collaboration station – part easel, part studio desk and part table. In this post, François gives us some insight into his creation from when the sample we shipped him arrived at his workshop to its debut at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. 


Q. AT-UM. That’s an interesting name. Tell us about it.

A. I have always liked short names, hence the name of my company UM Project and many of my products like the NGL table or the SMPL table. They are strong and memorable; punchy sound bites. I also like when names have a certain amount of geekiness and a technological feel, as well as mystery and poetry. AT-UM could be the name of a computer or strange machine, but also the name of a friendly robot. AT-UM also works as an acronym that means the “Activity Table by UM Project,” which is the perfect description of this piece. The name is also a subtle reference to Star Wars AT-AT, one of the many incredible machines of the saga.

Q. Your design allows people to use Horizon in both modes – tabletop and all-in-one. Talk about the design process for accommodating this.

A. I was immediately seduced by the versatility of the Horizon, working both as a flat interactive surface and a more traditional desktop computer. It is something that is both old and new, expected yet surprising. When I explored options to capture this duality, I gravitated toward a design vocabulary that conveyed the mixed references: a three-legged painter easel, a workshop sawhorse, a traditional desk, an interactive kiosk. Keeping elements of all of the above and distilling them to their simplest essence through simple volumes, straight lines and warm and colorful colors and materials naturally led to the final design. It was also important for me to convey a feeling of openness and accessibility, which invites people to interact and feel comfortable with the product. To achieve that I needed to minimize the amount of legs and clutter, and decided to have only three legs. Of course, three legs are somehow not only more friendly but also take up less space, providing more legroom for users to move around the piece and sit comfortably at the desk. The top is also relatively shallow in spite of all that is integrated into it (keyboard, mouse, accessories, power cord). It certainly helps create a light, accessible and friendly piece.

Q. As a designer, a lot can change from ideation to construction. What were some of the issues you encountered when transforming paper and pen to wood and nails?

A. My designs and furniture always look deceivingly simple, but actually take more work than it seems. That was exponentially true for the design of the AT-UM. I wanted to “erase” all traditional cumbersome details of computer products like the bulky power cord or excessive wiring. Making those elements “disappear” yet integrating them in the relatively shallow tabletop proved to be challenging, but the result was worth the effort. The effect is a friendly and simple case on legs whose center of attention is the Horizon, nothing else. I also wanted to celebrate what makes the Horizon so special: the accessories. By hiding them in inconspicuous drawers and compartments, they become even more special when they are revealed.

Francois' AT-UM Horizon Table

Q. What makes good design?

A. Every designer would probably have a different answer. For UM Project good design is directly the result and effect of ingenuous and impeccable making. Besides that I believe that good design is one that celebrates function, but also provides elements of surprise and unexpected moments.

Q. How do you envision people using AT-UM? In what types of places?

A. The AT-UM can be used in all types of work and creative spaces and at home too, in a home office or in the bedroom. But in many ways the AT-UM is not defined by the space around it, but defines that space it inhabits. It can provide a very personal space if used as a traditional PC, or it can provide an amazing interactive and collective experience if used as a flat and interactive tablet for multiple people. In some ways the type of space and experience that the AT-UM provides is not so much different that of a car.  Driving very early in the morning to work is all about a focused and personal experience. Driving to vacation with the kids is all about fun and play. Driving back from a baseball game with friends or piling into the car for dinner is all about entertainment and interaction. All of that with the same car!

AT-UM will be on display at ICFF in NYC May 18-21

Q. Do you think technology and traditional home décor will continue to intersect in the future?

A. The digital age is a reality. Devices and technology are less intrusive, and do not need to have a different look and feel from other artifacts in the house. More and more technology and computers will be integrated with more traditional designs and materials, yielding a style that will combine cues from the old analog world and cues from digital technologies, hopefully with a sense of playfulness.