Spring 2024


Forging soul into the world’s first AI-generated sink design.

Words by Andrea Darr  |  Image produced by Midjourney


o one knows where AI will take civilization, but for the moment, it can be a helpful idea-generating tool.

“For me, it’s fascinating where things are going, the speed of change, and where technology is taking us,” says Andrew Holben, director of marketing and sales for Thompson Traders, which specializes in luxury products for the kitchen, bath and home.

Designers can use AI to create images of truly custom products for their clients, but getting a manufacturer to produce those designs can be a challenge.

“You can’t create a product from AI out of thin air,” says Thompson’s director of communications, William Cook. “You can’t go to any manufacturer for a one-off, but our artisans can do it.”

The company’s Tailor-Made Custom Design Program allows and encourages unique designs, and their artisan metalsmiths have the flexibility to mold designs into existence using hand tools over an open fire.
Thompson’s leadership decided to approach Leslie Carothers—interior designer, digital marketing innovator and principal of Savour Partnership—with an experiment to test how this age-old tradition could adapt to changing conditions using an AI-designed sink as the example. The result is a fascinating contrast of the newest technology being paired with some of the oldest artistry in the world.

“Juxtaposition is the right word to use in this case,” William says.

“Given that robots and machinery can make just about anything these days, Thompson understands the subtle nuances that artisanal makers can add to any product, making it truly unique and one of a kind,” Leslie says. “They are willing to explore new ways of showcasing how designers can offer consumers bespoke creations that can be sold via a designer’s own website.”

Leslie spent three hours with Midjourney’s artificial intelligence bot, exploring text prompts and the visuals each prompt produced.

“Creating a text prompt is very easy—it’s your brain, your imagination, and an image appears out of that,” she describes.

Her main text prompt? Shell. And even for fun: mermaid. “I was curious what that one would be like!” says Leslie, who lives near the coast and wanted to create a biophilic design.

Ultimately, she delivered four concepts to Thompson. Reviewing the images, Thompson determined that three of them would not be producible, as they would require casting, and the fourth—which happened to be Leslie’s favorite—would be brought into existence.

Aila made its debut at KBIS in February. The second place it will be showcased? Right here in Kansas City at the Midwest Design and Furniture Fair, held at Bartle Hall. This annual design event will highlight furniture, materials, photography and art, as well as visionary concepts from both local artisans and esteemed global brands.

Visit mwdaff.com for details on speakers, vendors, event details and more.

Midwest Design and Furniture Fair

May 9-10: industry professionals only

May 11: open to the public

“From Thompson’s standpoint, there’s not much of a difference whether a design comes from an AI bot or a designer taking time to use a pen or pencil to make a sketch,” Andrew explains. The challenge with a purely AI design is translating a 2D image into 3D. Leslie’s prompts resulted in a single image; with no additional angles, Thompson couldn’t gauge the sink’s scale or depth, plus there was no drain. Their team developed the concept further through human ingenuity.

“The drain doesn’t look typical,” Leslie says. “It’s a slit in the base, very small and beautifully done so it doesn’t disturb the design.”

The sink—named Aila—is made of copper, harking to tradition as much as to practicality.

“Copper is an easy metal to work with,” William says. “When you’re shaping something as thick and big as Aila, you need a metal that’s easily workable with hand tools.”

The company readily offers many more types of metal—brass, nickel, bronze and steel—but those prove to be more of a challenge to manipulate for the artist. Copper also can be finished in a variety of ways.

Aila is a vessel sink in matte black that is polished down in parts, just like the AI image.

“They’re quite similar,” William says. “I was blown away by the fidelity of the artisans.”

Aila will be licensed to sell, each one numbered like a piece of art.

“As the world’s first AI-generated sink, at one point or another in history, it will rise over value because it’s the first,” Leslie adds. 

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