Chinese furniture offers a breath of fresh air
Following the nation’s opening up to the West and the economic boom of recent years, Chinese furniture has been more popular than ever before. For young designers from China, their own culture and traditional artisan skills play an important role alongside innovation and sustainability. Modern Chinese design bridges the gap between tradition and global trends. Join us for a look at a selection of furniture and designers to see how this is working.
With pieces like the Juniper Chair, the young furniture designers from the Sun at Six design studio are returning to a more natural approach. (Photo: Sun at Six)
Chinese design: Between tradition and experimentation
As the borders between nations become blurred in our globally connected world, the desire for national identity grows. Young designers from China are capturing these opposing forces in their work. The China Design Centre in London is a platform on which Chinese designers can promote their ideas and projects outside China and collaborate with international players. The centre’s objective is to overcome the negative connotations of the “Made in China” label and create a new awareness of the rich cultural heritage and creative potential of the country’s young designers. This is particularly apparent in new interpretations of tea furniture . The ancient tradition of drinking tea is preserved, while at the same time minimalist elements, dynamic forms and multifunctional design concepts are introduced.
Shanghai, the new international frontier, is home to architect couple Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu. The goal of their interdisciplinary design studio, Neri&Hu, is to challenge conventions. In doing so, the city’s cultural, urban and historical context serves as a launch pad for rethinking and reimagining spaces, questioning customs and gaining new perspectives – an approach they applied to their design of “Das Haus” at imm cologne in 2015 .
BUZAO takes this experimentation a step further. The brand and the studio of the same name stand for rebellious youth, self-awareness and unbridled creativity. The designers engage critically with their culture and challenge it. Their focus is on materials, which determine design and function. A table is therefore not only a piece of furniture, but also an installation, experiment and exhibit.
High quality, locally produced and sustainable
As a global economic power, China also faces the challenge of balancing growth with environmental concerns. Previously an agricultural society using traditional farming methods, the modern industrial nation is now home to countless factories. Young designers from China recognise the need to return to a more natural approach and to design environmentally friendly furniture. Sun at Six , for example, produces modern furniture made of sustainable timber and free of nails, screws and non-natural varnishes and paints.
The design studio sources its leather from a family business in Italy. Chinese master joiners build the furniture by hand using traditional skills. This approach not only supports small, mostly local, businesses, but also results in the creation of high-quality, natural furniture that can be easily returned to the cycle at the end of its useful life.
The Ohm Dining Table and Ember Chairs (Fabric) are produced from sustainable wood and, thanks to traditional Chinese craftsmanship, have no need for screws or nails. (Photo: Sun at Six)
Modern design for cosmopolitans
High-quality furniture and exclusive designs should be affordable to everyone – at least that’s the philosophy promoted by young designers from China. Chinese start-up ZAOZUO, for example, is popular with young urbanites with good reason – not only are its furniture and accessories colourful, minimalist in the Scandinavian style and multifunctional, but they’re also attractively priced. Incidentally, the company’s Creative Director Luca Nichetto, as his name suggests, comes from Italy. European influences are also revealed in the way the furniture is presented . After all, ZAOZUO is marketing high-quality furniture to millennials not just in China but all over the world.
Designer Ximi Li from URBAN CRAFT is also forging links between China and Europe. Many of his designs exude the luxurious allure and comfort of Italian furniture – which no doubt owes something to his training in Milan. The cosy Shanghai Dumpling sofa , on the other hand, was inspired by Shanghai-style wontons. Bringing together the best of both worlds in this way results in unique designs.
Young Chinese designers are increasingly looking to global design trends, but at the same time reflecting on their cultural origins and paying respect to their traditional craftsmanship. (Photo: Anna Shvets on Pexels)
renaissance in traditional craftsmanship
Chinese furniture is increasingly inspired by European designs and global trends. At the same time, young designers from China are reflecting on and paying tribute to their cultural roots. Traditional Chinese craftsmanship is experiencing a renaissance, because high standards of design and quality can only be achieved by making things by hand. In addition, there is a focus on openness, air and light in order to keep everything in balance.
At PUSU , the strong connection with Chinese aesthetics, craftsmanship and minimalism is very apparent. Chair backs made of vertical rods, and open shelves without panels on the back or sides allow the room to breathe. On the other hand, the upwardly curved tips of elegant towel rails and chairs are reminiscent of the upturned corners of Chinese temple roofs. And the high-quality woodwork is indicative of true craftsmanship. The designs radiate tranquillity and even a certain wisdom – almost as if they want to say that, despite everything that has changed, tradition will endure for a long time to come.
Furniture from China, for the world
Contemporary Chinese design is both cosmopolitan and traditional at the same time. Sustainability, an enthusiasm for experimentation and a focus on quality combine with true craftsmanship and centuries-old traditions. At first glance, some pieces of Chinese furniture could be mistaken for Scandinavian designs while others very deliberately embrace Chinese aesthetics. This unique marriage of styles doesn’t just reflect the preferences of Chinese consumers – it’s also exciting interest and acting as a source of inspiration beyond China’s borders.
Discover Chinese design and must-have home furnishings from young designers at imm in Cologne from 17 to 22 January 2022. Make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to receive exclusive information about 2022’s exhibitors and to be notified when ticket sales open. Find out more here .