Domestic Objects of Distant Contexts

physical computation • arduino
spatial design
Domestic Objects is an installation that invites us to take a closer look at the qualitative side of data as a more intimate way of understanding the world around us.


Data is ubiquitous. Our everyday existence is defined by either the creation or the consumption of it. On a personal level, we track steps taken in a day, the books we’ve read, or the ingredients to our favorite meals. Beyond that, we observe carbon emissions, market indices, or even population growth rates.

For some, the persistent drive to collect data stems from a capitalistic urge realized through technological maturity, for others, the need to understand a living, breathing world. Regardless, while we engage with data, most of our interactions remain distant, parsing through indifferent means of tables, charts, and diagrams. While we can look into data, we can’t necessarily feel the data.


This project proposes another way of experiencing data, drawn from the minutiae of day to day life. If data can be mapped to physical objects around us, data might become noticeable aspects of our everyday lives.

In this scenario, data takes on tangible forms, urging us to notice their presence. Suddenly, reading about a storm in another state might become more than a passing thought, and results in a lived experience.


Domestic Objects was displayed at the Entropy Year End Exhibition on May 18th in the Parsons Design & Technology studio spaces.
The installation was accompanied by music from Oscar Peterson, as well as a warm cup of joe.

Guests contributed their perspectives on Domestic Objects below.
Photo Credits — Michael Stockdale
Photo Credits — Alex Modlin
Photo Credits — Shayla Lee

Three Objects

The installation consists of three repurposed objects we might find in our domestic spaces. These familiar objects help weave the ideas of the installation back into our everyday lives.
Not much is asked of the objects, simply the physical attributes inherent to their existence and functionality. Faulty Frame, makes this evident through its lengthy horizontal span. For Listing Lamp, it comes through its method of assembly and in Tenuous Table, its broad and expansive surface.

Between them, they observe factors beyond our immediate awareness: seismic activity, global power consumption, and wealth distribution. Through their movements, and our participation, we acknowledge an involvement in a greater context and our ability to affect it.

Faulty Frame

The reading of Frame relies on our expectations on the level mounting of picture frames, and our tendencies to right any unevenness we might encounter.

Frame moves in a manner that engages these tendencies and challenges us to not act upon them. As it tilts, its supports squeak and heightens the discomfort we feel from observing the piece.
Seismic data from the US Geological Survey (USGS) is used to inform the movements of Faulty Frame. The data compiled by USGS is one of the few available real-time datasets, and is used to monitor earthquake activity around the world for public safety and research.

To ready the data for purposes of this project, the dataset is split into 24 hour segments. For each segment, the greatest magnitude earthquake is gathered along with the longitudinal information of the epicenter.
As the data updates on a daily basis, Faulty Frame tilts toward the direction of the highest intensity seismic activity within a 24 hour period, with the amount of tilt determined by the magnitude of the earthquake.

While the conveyance of data by Frame isn’t intended to be actionable and doesn’t appear to have a deeper meaning beyond the stated, it exists as a way for information to reach us in a visceral manner. It, once again, is a reminder that these occurrences do take place on a daily basis, and is happening all around us.

Lastly, it must be stated that the accuracy of Faulty Frame is remarkable. It is able to register seismic activity and gauge its intensity up to a foot away. If you wake up one day to find Frame upon the ground, shattered in multiple places, you’ll know it had been successful in registering a nearby earthquake.

Listing Lamp

Lamp’s range of motions are captured in two separate planes, manifesting in a swivel and a list. Both rely on the unsecured meeting point between the top stem and the bo!om stem to serve as a pivot point. As it moves, it does so gracefully. It first swivels into place, coming to a soft stop, before raising or lowering its lampshade to complete the cycle. Along with its movements, the light emanating from Lamp illuminates and casts shadows around its range of throw, complimenting and informing us of its motions.

In the end, there are two possible ways of experiencing Lamp. We could choose to follow its movements and watch it inhabit the space surrounding it, or we could choose to take in the strange ambiance of the moving light. Best of all, we could choose to consider them together to fully appreciate its presence.
Listing Lamp utilizes two datasets in its portrayal of commodity culture. The first dataset focuses on per capita energy consumption in the US from 1973 to 2010, gathered by The US Energy Information Agency.

Complimenting this dataset is the S&P 500, which is observed over a 50 year period from 1973 to 2023 and highlights major economic developments during that period. Occasionally, there are correlations between the two datasets.
The two datasets are mapped onto the two planes of movement of Listing Lamp. On the XY plane, which sees to the swivel motion of Lamp, is the S&P 500. Mapped onto the perpendicular plane, expressed by the listing of the lampshade, is the data on energy consumption.

As the data changes, the actions make for the animism of Lamp. Compared to Faulty Frame, the movements here are intended to draw out new relationships between the two sets of data. Through this tangible connection, we are informed of the habits we form and the behaviors we uphold, and we are prompted to take action moving forward.

Tenuous Table

A few sounds accompany the tilting motion of the top. The legs themselves are linear actuators that whirr and hum as it functions. Driving the linear actuators are a set of relays. As the actuators start and stop, they are paired with the clicking sounds of switches. Upon each end of the actuators is a loose ball and socket joint that slightly creaks as it negotiates the shifting weight of glass on an inclined plane.

Altogether, the sights and sounds of Tenuous Table evoke sensations of lightness in the effortless way its top moves, counteracted by a sense of heaviness from the acoustically present mechanics that drive it. There is an urging about the piece — urging us to come closer, and urging us to observe a while longer.
Tenuous Table conveys data about the inequality of wealth distribution within the United States. The three main economic classes are being represented — the lower class, the middle class, and the upper class and spans the time between 1989 and 2023. Over the course of those years, the data suggests a slight transfer of wealth from those beneath the 90th percentile to those above.
There are three axes of parallel movement behind the motions of Tenuous Table. This unique distinction from the single axis of Faulty Frame and the double, but non planer axes of Listing Lamp makes Table suitable for metrics that encourage comparison, as the top exposes the differences within the data.

Even the slightest differential in the data manifests in a perceptible shift in the table’s levelness. The reflection of the glass top adds to the effect, casting the plumb walls and objects within the surroundings in a subtle, but noticeable skew. Not least of all is the affected functionality of a table, whose sole function is to be level and sturdy. Objects and tabletop accessories roll o in unison to the data being conveyed.


The following sections outlines some of the technical considerations for Domestic Objects. While not exhaustive, it is a sample of the desired outcomes, challenges, and solutions for each of the objects.

faulty Frame

The motions of Faulty Frame are meant to mimic the physical range of motions exhibited by a picture frame. This assumes a single mounting point, typically a nail on the wall, and the pivoting of the frame around that point when it becomes off-kilter.

With this in mind, there were a few limitations within the exhibition space, crucially, the inability to affix mounting hardware onto walls. Anything suspended would need to be hung from unistrut structures from the ceiling. The challenges posed here were abundant — how do you pivot around a fixed point in mid-air, how do you stabilize the frame when in motion, and will it look ‘natural’ while performing?
Test with folded paper and a stepper motor The entanglement of string as it was wound up proved difficult.
Wire entanglement was an issue for early prototypes. To address this, the design was simplified down to a single motored spool, with an accompanying pulley on the other end to support the frame at two points.

The motorized spool assembly was attached to a mount, which affixed to unistruts using zip-ties. In order to produce the design, the parts were 3D printed using high strength PLA.
Problems arose with spooling. Multiple winds around the spool with wire increases the chance for entanglement.
Version two of the motor mount featured a wider spool with steeper ends as well as a guide to direct the spooling of wire.

Listing Lamp

Listing Lamp involved two motors positioned at 90 degrees from one another. Similar to the motor mount used for Faulty Frame, Listing Lamp also features a motorized spool. To allow for rotation on the XY plane, a second motor is mounted directly above the spool.

The entire assembly sits directly above the pivot point where the disassembled portion of the lamp shade meets the stem of the lamp base. A short leading arm extends past the spool and guides the direction of the rotation in accordance to the upper motor.
The design of the assembly included a backplate that helped secure the bottom mount. This was not needed in the final design.
As the final installation height of the motors was at 10 feet, a mid-height test at 6 feet was performed to ensure functionality.
The motor mounted 10 feet up. Fine tuning was performed via direct connection with a USB extension cable (a must have for any toolkit).
Testing for ambiance and pieces of furniture to complete the set.
The personality of Listing Lamp comes through the moment you situate yourself next to it.

Pictured — Connor Gravelle

Tenuous Table

The initial design of Tenuous Table considered taking a standard four-legged coffee table and augmenting each leg with a motor to allow it to teeter accordingly. While possible, there was unnecessary complexity in accounting for a fourth point on a plane. Three points of contact would suffice and I began to search for an appropriate coffee table.

I came across a round coffee table with wheels and had intended to remove them to reduce the overall height. However, when the table was paired up with the couch intended for the installation, the mismatch was immediately evident. Luckily, the top was removable (in fact, it wasn’t even secured onto the podium), so I scavenged around the studio space for potential bases.
Potential bases for the glass top. The small size and low height of the chosen pink base allowed for the top to become a pronounced feature.

Pictured — Hasan Khalid
Three 220 pound, 6 inch travel linear actuators were used to animate the top. While the combined 660 pound lifting capacity was more than enough to support the 40 pound glass top, lesser actuators didn’t have enough of a cross section to support the lateral forces of a sloped table top.

The photo to the side compares a 220 pound actuator (left) to a 25 pound actuator (right). The plastic construction of the 25 pound actuator alone was enough reason to upgrade to the full metal body of the 220 pound.

Testing of the linear actuators. Note the temporary clamped supports.
The movements involved relied on multiple axial shifts and meant a special joint needed to be used in place of a standard hinged joint. This led to the design of a ball and socket, of which the socket needed to be deep enough to prevent the socket from slipping out, and the ball to be small enough to accommodate negotiating resting planes, as the distance between two points on an incline would constantly be shifting.
A large ball will collide with the socket at certain angles.

Smaller balls allow for a freedom of movement to counteract changing distances between points of the linear actuators. Note the temporary clamped supports.
The linear actuator is supported at the base of the shaft and slightly further up. At the end of the arm is a ball and a socket that is attached to the bottom of the glass top using adhesives.


An area of 10 feet by 10 feet was allotted within the exhibition space. The goal of the installation design was to create a semi-enclosed space to provide visual separation from the other pieces being exhibited. In addition to this planning, further care was necessary to locate where, and how, the parts of the installation are hung from the ceiling structure.
Ideas for defining space through curtains or suspended cloth

Studies on how to secure parts to unistrut structure
Proposed Domestic Objects diagrammed in yellow, surrounding curtains to be green to match existing couch

Detailed view on attachments to ceiling
Layout studies with final objects

Final layout favors a single perspective approach to compliment its flanking columns
Special thanks — Nancy Valladares, Barbara Morris, Clarinda Mac Low, and Chris Prentice for their invaluable feedback in shaping these ideas. Hong Hua, who helped 3D print components for Domestic Objects. Leffin Christopher, who was always there to entertain a question. Lauria Clarke, who full heartedly endorsed the use of linear actuators. Michael Stockdale, Alex Modlin, and Shayla Lee for capturing moments during the exhibition I wouldn’t otherwise have captured.