Maison et objet (autumn 17)

maison et objet

Hall 6 at Maison et objet

 

The term ‘enochlophobia’ means fear of crowds, a phobia that I suspect I have – mildly. Although I don’t experience blackouts or panic attacks in crowded places, I do feel overwhelmed, as if my energy is being sucked out of me, and I often feel exhausted afterwards.

This can be a problem when I visit business-related trade fairs, hence I rarely spend more than a few hours at a trade fair (or even art fairs). However, once in a while, I have to conquer my fears and plunge into it. It took me some time to decide whether I should spend €60 on a ticket to Paris’ mega design trade fair, Maison et objet, particularly when most trade fairs in the world are free of charge. Perhaps the reason why they could charge so much is because of its reputation and history (it is 22 years old); and it attracts luxury and well-respected brands, independent names, as well as up-and-coming designers from around the world. If you want to know the trends of interior, furniture and products and what is happening in the design world right now, then this fair is most likely to provide some ideas. With over 3000 brands exhibiting at Paris Nord Villepinte (about 45 mins outside of Paris) for 5 days, it would be wise to do some preparations before the visit.

 

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maison et objet  maison et objet

maison et objet

maison et objet

 

My strategy was to spend a day there focusing on 2-3 halls only (there are 8 in total), because it would impossible to see everything in a day. But soon after I arrived via the entrance of Hall 6 (the largest hall), I was lost, stressed out, and feeling overwhelmed. I thought I was mentally prepared, but the sheer scale of the venue was staggering. The layout of this hall was like a vast maze and it wasn’t easy to navigate at all. Luckily, Hall 7 (Now! Design a Vivre) was more spacious and it gave me some breathing space. Six hours later, I only managed to cover 2.5 halls, but it was sufficient for me already.

 

vitra eames  marimekko

marimekko

Flensted Mobiles

Top left: The classic Eames Elephant at Vitra; Top right and 2nd row: new collection by Marimekko; Botton row: Flensted Mobiles

 

But was it worth all the fuss and sweat? Yes, I suppose. Since most of the trade fairs in London focus mostly on British brands and businesses, M & O provides a more global perspective of the design world outside of the U.K. There are many interesting brands that I have never heard of before, and many of them are based in Asia too.

Here is an overview of some of the brands/products that I encountered during the 6 hours at the fair including many Asian participants:

 

gmund

Gmund papermakers and stationery (Germany)

 

papier machine

Papier Machine (France) is a booklet gathering a family of 13 paper-made electronic toys ready to be cut, colored, folded, assembled or torn.

 

samesame

Samesame recycled glass products (Germany)

 

storytiles

Storytiles from the Netherlands

 

Animal theme

AP COLLECTION

AP COLLECTION  AP COLLECTION

elephant table and chairs element optimal

peacock at Element Optimal  Zoo collection at Element Optimal

Top and 2nd rows: super cute cuddly toy chairs at AP Collection from Belgium; 3rd row: elephant table and chairs; Bottom left: Peacock; Bottom right: Zoo collection at Element Optimal from Denmark

 

Materials

wonders of weaving

luce couillet

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Top row: Wonders of weaving (Indonesia); 2nd row: Luce Couillet textiles (France); Bottom: origami textiles at the Material lab

 

Japan

In the last few years, Japanese art/digital collective teamlab has created some fascinating immersive installations around the world. After their popular installations at Pace London earlier this year, they have teamed up with tea master Shunichi Matsuo to promote his new brand, En tea, a new tea grown in Hizen.

Visitors were led into a dark room, where they would sit at the table and be given a bowl of green tea. Then virtual flowers would appear when tea is poured in the bowl; the visuals are rendered in real time by a computer program and are not prerecorded. Petals and leaves would scatter and spread as you move your bowl. It was a fun experience, and a nice way to rehydrate and enjoy a bit of downtime away from the hustle and bustle outside.

 

Espace en tea X Teamlab  Espace en tea X Teamlab

more trees

Top row: flowers blossom in the tea bowl: Bottom row: En tea & More trees space outside of the installation

 

misoka

Misoka – an award-winning toothbrush that requires no toothpaste

 

pamshade

The quirkiest lamps ever… Pampshade is made from real bread by bread lover/artist, Yukiko Morita. I have ever seen anything like this before!

 

washi paper

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Osaka design centre – Washi paper and K-ino Inomata

 

draw a line  suzusan

suzusan  suzuzan

Top left: Draw a line tension rod by Heian Shindo and TENT; Suzusan shibori textiles and lighting

 

Korea

I.cera

lee hyemi

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small good things  kim hyun joo

Top row: Ceramic products at I.Cera; 2nd row: Lee Hyemi; 3rd row: Korean craft & design foundation; Bottom left: Small good things; Bottom right: Kim Hyun Joo studio

 

Taiwan

A notable presence from Taiwan at the fair, aside from the Taiwan crafts & design stand, there were other independent brands like Haoshi, Toast, EY products, new brand called Melting, and the 2017 Rising Asian Talents: Kamaro’an.

 

taiwan craft design

haoshi

Kamaro'an

toast

melting

dsc_0087-min

1st row: Taiwan crafts & design; 2nd row: Haoshi; 3rd row: Kamaro’an; 4th row: Toast; 5th row: Melting; bottom row: EY products

 

Thailand

Meanwhile, Thailand’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) also showcased TALENT THAI, which introduced various Thai lifestyle/design brands to an international audience. Thai design studio, Atelier 2+ was also selected one of the 2017 Rising Asian Talents.

 

zen forum  saprang

atelier 2+ Greenhouse MinI

salt and pepper studio  img_4968-min

1st left: Zen Forum; 1st right: Handmade jewellery by Saprang;  2nd row: Greenhouse Mini by Atelier 2+; Bottom left: woven chair by Salt and Pepper design studio; Bottom right: wooden panels by Deesawat

 

Singapore

woha

The stand of Singapore-based architectural practice WOHA was named Designer of the year Asia 2017

 

Hong Kong

LIM + LU STUDIO

2017 Rising Asian talent: Lim + Lu Studio

 

 

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Tent London 2014

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Top: Danish made; Bottom left: 100% Norway; Bottom right: visitors relaxing outside on a warm Sept day

 

This year, I was surprised by the number of Asian designers participating at Tent London. I ended up spending about 3 hours there and chatted to many designers, which left me feeling quite exhausted and design-overdosed!

The first surprise came when I saw Tokyo design week in London occupying a large area at the back of the ground floor. The theme was Tokyo Imagine, which showcased interactive design and technology, products, graphics and animation etc. There was some amazing digital technology on display esp. by Amana, where an app Arart was created to turn an ordinary two-dimensional image into motion graphics. However, I found the curation random and inconsistent, among the futuristic interactive design and technology, there were also some traditional displays that looked completely out of place!

 

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Top left: Koda Kumi’s Dance in the rain; Top right: Amana x Arart; 2nd row: Tokyo Merry-go-round by Asami Kiyokawa; 3rd row left: Kenjya‘s manga; 3rd right: IgaChie – traditional decorations; 4th row: Nest; Bottom left: Mangaka’s manga knife and chopping board set; Bottom right: Handmade-Japan

 

My favourite of the section was Nest created by Junya Shigematsu, featuring different sets of handmade wooden toys inspired by Russian Matryoshka dolls. These sets teach the structure/anatomy/scale of animal and human body, they are both playful and educational.

Upstairs, I came across a group of Japanese design students who have teamed up to create furniture and goods inspired by manga. Mangaka‘s designs are fun and unusual, I especially like the Kill Devi wooden chopping board set.

 

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Top: ‘Stationery object’ range by Michael & George; 2nd row left: recycled lamps by Creare; 2nd row right: Gróa Ólöf Þorgeirsdóttir‘s Wooly; 4th row left: “Dive in” by Vezzini & Chen; 4th row middle: Campobag; 4th row right: Random by Studio; 5th row: Louise Tucker; Bottom left: Mutton & Flamingo; Bottom right: Yoin design

 

In recent years, I noticed that lighting design plays a more prominent role at various design trade shows. Lighting is now being treated as important as furniture, and designers are experimenting with different materials and craft techniques to create many interesting designs. One of the most playful design at the show was Michael & George‘s HB lamp, part of their ‘Stationery Objects’ range. It’s quirky and brings a smile to my face, perfect for stationery addicts!

I also like the way glass and ceramics are used in London-based design team Vezzini & Chens lighting design. Their “dive in” wall installation features glass bubbles filled with ceramic forms that emulate forms and textures of underwater creature; while their “close up” lamps are made up of slip casted and hand carved bone china pieces inside the free blown glass form. On the glass, bubble-lens were created to distort and magnify the view of the Bone china inside. Simple and yet beautiful.

Another interesting glass lamp that I cam across was Random, created by Taiwanese design team, Studio If. The pendant light has two strings and when one string is pulled, the light balls are turned on one by one in random order. And when the other string is pulled, it dims the light in the reversed order till all balls are off. I love this cool and elegant lamp!

 

Stix Chair by Nicolai Hansen & Clemens Hoyer Aljoud Lootah's 'Unfolding Unity StoolPinpres by OOO My designStik by Jesper Su Rosenmeier & Johan Jeppesen IMG_0771Triplets by Brish Mellor Aparentment

Top left: Stix Chair by Nicolai Hansen & Clemens Hoyer; Top right: Aljoud Lootah‘s ‘Unfolding Unity Stool’; 2nd row left: Pinpres by OOO My design; 2nd row middle: Stik by Jesper Su Rosenmeier & Johan Jeppesen; 2nd row right: Middle East Revealed; Bottom left: Triplets by Brish Mellor; Bottom right: Aparentment

 

One section at the show that I particularly enjoyed was Danish Made, where emerging Danish Designers showcase prototypes inspired by the two great Danish furniture designers Hans J. Wegner and Børge Mogensen. Graduates from three Danish architecture and design schools reinterpret the classic forms as this year is the centennial birthday of the two masters. My personal favourite is Stix Chair by Nicolai Hansen & Clemens Hoyer (see above).

 

P1100298Alghalia Interiors Artesania de GaliciaTracey Tubb

Top: 100% Norway; 2nd row left: Alghalia Interiors; 2nd row right: Artesania de Galicia; Bottom: Origami wall covering by Tracey Tubb

 

Like I mentioned earlier, there was a notable high numbers of Asian designers showcasing here this year. Aside from Tokyo design week in London, Constancy and change in Korean Traditional Craft also occupied a large area upstairs where the organiser Korean Craft & design foundation showcased a variety of contemporary crafts that are inspired by traditional culture, materials or techniques.

There were several Asian designers/ brands that stood out for me, and one of them was Korean designer HyunJoo Kim, who designed the natural-inspired Fallen leaf trays made of paper. Hyun Joo’s background is in industrial design, and she has designed many nature-inspired furniture pieces. The newly-launched eco Fallen leaf tray sets are simple, easy to use, and they are more aesthetically-pleasing than the standard paper plates.

 

P1100387korean traditional craftzan designbonnsu clippen Fallen leaf trays by HyunJoo Kimhyper stone

Top left: Japanese origami screen; Top middle: Constancy and change in Korean Traditional Craft; Top right: Zan design at Campobag (Taiwan); 2nd row: Bonnsu (Taiwan); 3rd row left; Clippen by MZDB (Korea) 3rd row right: Fallen leaf trays by HyunJoo Kim; Bottom: Hyper stone by Korean design students from Hanyang University

 

I spoke to a representative at Cambobag, a Taiwanese creative team that unites artists, designers and illustrators from different disciplines and aims to explore the impact art has on the world at large. I was particularly drawn by Zan design, a Taiwanese design studio that makes vessels and tableware inspired by the traditional enamel craftsmanship and technology. I love the colours, earthy and rustic tone of their copper and enamel vessels, and I think the copper and glaze give them a contemporary twist.

I was also happy to have met the husband and wife team behind Bonnsu, a design studio based in Taiwan. Adam is Swedish and Ai is Taiwanese but they met in the US while studying design. I really like their award-winning ceramic Reflections series inspired by architectural landmarks like Taj Mahal and the Kremlin. The sets not only are unique and eye-catching, they are also functional and well crafted.

From my observations, I firmly believe that the Taiwanese design scene is the most exciting one in Asia at the moment. I am continuing to discover inspiring designs that come from the hearts of the designers, and this is what makes them stand out from the rest. And as much as I love Japanese designs, I think that somehow they are losing their direction and edge, which is a real shame.

 

My design festival journey continues on…

Maison et objet Asia 2014

I did not expect to take so long to write about Shanghai (I envy bloggers who publish daily entries), hence this blog entry on Maison et Objet Asia is much delayed…

Less than a week after my trip to Shanghai, I was off to Singapore to attend the first Maison et Objet show in Asia and Singapore design week. For those who have been to the biannual shows in Paris would know how tiring it is to wander through halls after halls of designer products and furniture. By scale, this Asian edition was much smaller, hence, it didn’t take too long to wander around the 14,000 sq ft of space. 265 brands from 24 countries were featured here and about 30% of them were from Asia.

 

maison et objet asia 2014 maison et objet asia 2014schemaKenneth CobonpueKenneth Cobonpuemaison et objet asia 2014maison et objet asia 2014 maison et objet asia 2014

Top left: Alur Lamp by Ong Cen Kuang; 2nd row: Schema by Kalikasan Crafts; 2nd row left, middle & bottom left: Kenneth Cobonpue & his Trame chair; Bottom right: Vases at Serax

 

One surprise from the show was to see a Filipino section festuring several well-established and young designer brands from The Philippines. Filipino design is probably not as well-known outside of Asia, but its strong craft heritage is one of its strengths that is helping it to become more recognised internationally. And one of the best representative is Kenneth Cobonpue, who was awarded Designer of Year at the show. Cobonpue is known for using nature as his inspiration, he focuses on natural material and uses local craftsmanship to create furniture and products that suit contemporary living. Judging from the long queue of fans wanting to be photographed with the designer, it’s hard not to consider him as a design celebrity!

Schema by Kalikasan Crafts is another Filipino brand that is expanding internationally. The company hired young Thai designer, Anon Pairo to design their new lighting collection inspired by industrial loft. Many of their designs are made from metal wires that have been mold into various patterns through traditional weaving techniques, and they are all handmade by local artisans.

Another interesting lighting and home accessories brand is Ong Cen Kuang from Bali established in 2008. Their handmade lighting collections focus on the combination of tactile materials, infusion of self develop technique and traditional origami.

 

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Thai showcase – Top left: Pana objects; top rigt: Pim Sudhikam; 2nd row right: The pavilon; Bottom left: Ceramic ware from Chiang Mai; 2nd row left: Tom Dixon; 2nd row middle: Ango lighting from Thailand; Bottom right: apaiser bathtub

 

I have always been a fan of Thai designs, yet I have often had issues negotiating with Thai companies… Big companies only want to deal with bulk orders, while small design studios struggle with pricing, and so we are only carrying two brands (Zequenz and Goodjob) from Thailand at the moment. At the Thai showcase pavilion, I spotted a young company that I have previously contacted before… Pana objects, which makes wonderful wooden stationery and objects. Another designer that caught my eye was Pim Sudhikam‘s simple yet distinctive (often with blue underglaze) ceramics. Outside of the pavilion, Ango is an award-winning lighting brand that merges nature with technology, and most of the materials used are natural and sustainable.

 

maison et objet asia 2014 Mike MakMike MakIMG_6697P1080867P1080886P1080883 P1080882

Rising Asian talents: Top right & 2nd row left: Mike Mak from Hong Kong; 2nd row middle: Denny R. Priyatna from Thailand; 3rd row: Yu Fen Lo from Taiwan; Bottom: Melvin Ong from Singapore; 2nd row right: Wewood from Portugal 

 

One of the most exciting part of these design or trade shows is the discovery of new talents or products. And at this show, six promising designers from the region were awarded as ‘Rising Asian Talents’ and were given the opportunity to showcase their designs. I spoke to Mike Mak from Hong Kong (whom I have contacted before regarding his rather fun Eyeclock) and he explained to me about his display which featured flibre-glass designs inspired by ancient/traditional Chinese characters or Chinese poems: a fruit holder inspired by the word ‘field’, a ladder inspired by the word ‘moon’ but my favourite is the vases that depict the life cycle of flowers through the presence/ absence of the flowers.

Then I met the young designer from Singapore, Melvin Ong, who used to study and live in London. Melvin is the designer behind Desinere, and I love his Japanese/origami-inspired designs. I then found out that he has collaborated with the well-respected Japanese metal casting craft manufacturer, Nousaku to create a beautiful set of bronze and brass Fouetté facetted paperweight spintops. It is always encouraging to see more young designers collaborating with traditional craftsmen to create new and fresh designs.

Pinyen creative from Taiwan is another company that I have previous spoken to when they exhibited at Tent London 2 years ago. Yu-Fen Lo is the designer behind the brand and their designs are often inspired by nature with functionality and sustainability in mind.

The other three designers were: Denny R. Priyatna from Indonesia, Lilianna Manaham from the Philippines and Sittivhai Ngamhongtong from Thailand.

 

IMG_6683 maison et objet asia 2014maison et objet asia 2014maison et objet asia 2014 IMG_6687

Top left: Tom Dixon’s talk; top right: Vincent Gregoire from Nelly Rodi giving a talk on trend forecasting; Bottom: Y’A PAS LE FEU AU LAC

 

Last but not least, seminars given by designers, architects and industry insiders are often highlights of the trade events. The key speaker at this show was Tom Dixon (originally it was advertised as Oki Sato from Nendo) and it attracted so many people that it was not even possible to get into the seating area ( as I mentioned earlier, the celebrity culture in the design world is more evident than ever). Yet I was more interested in talks on Asia’s new e-commerce and trend forecasting given by Vincent Gregoire from Nelly Rodi.

There was a lot of information on past and future, and here is a brief summary of some of the key points from his talk:

The decade from 2010 focuses more on the ‘slow’ and back to basics lifestyle, so we have seen slow cooking, fashion and an emphasis on moral values. Developed countries are also moving from consumption to collaboration in businesses and other aspects.

From 2020, it is predicted that ‘fast’ period will return, emphasising on flexibility, multipasses and multimedium.

The four major design trends of 2015 are categorised into 4 categories:

1. Promised land by pioneers ( nomadic, rustic, self-prduction, nomadic pop-up, functional asethetics, down to earth colours)

2. Sacred fire by Conquistadors (passionate, stimulating, energy, truth, whistle blower, feel good, New bling, playful, fire reference colours like gold and ash)

3. Deep dive by Atlanteans ( aquatic, experimental, Baroque, mermaids, organic, jelly, surrealistic, seaweed tones)

4. Air cosmos by Nextplorers (futuristic, experimental, new frontiers, Dyson-think tank, Gravity, Daft punk, Star Wars, astrology, whites, black and yellow)

If you can make sense of the above, then congratulations!

Although I was slightly disappointed with the scale and the numbers of Asian brands that took part, I was glad that the event coincided with the Singapore design week and International furniture fair ( see my next entries) where I managed to spot many new Asian talents. I hope that there will be more Asian participants at the show next year as I believe that Asian designs have yet to reach its full potential in the global market.

 

Our new theme: PLAY

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In the past few years, I noticed a “back to basic” trend happening in the developed countries, and even in product designs, many designers have opted for less decorative style and creating products from natural material. Simple wooden toys also seem to have made a comeback, which I am quite happy to see.

I am sure that most people would agree that as technology advances, our lives are improved in a certain way, yet at the same time, our lifestyles are more unhealthy and we are more disconnected with reality and the people around us. The idea of introducing a collection based around the theme “Play” came to me because I feel that perhaps adults don’t play enough these days ( and I don’t mean Candy Crush saga). I remember board or card games that I used to play with friends and families before the internet days, and it was through these games, we got to know the other players i.e. how competitive one can be or how one loves to cheat etc. I was also fond of origami, paper crafts, jigsaw puzzles and building mini cities with Lego, it was through these activities that I was able to apply my creativity, which I believe is crucial regardless of our ages.

 

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A majority of the products from this collection are Japanese because out of all the Asian countries, Japan offers the most creative and diverse range of games and paper crafts. And products like handmade balloons that can change colours ( Hen-shin balloons) or turn into a dog ( Mammal D) can only be found in Japan! Again, there are some Good design award winners like Funny Face by Cochae, Irokumi colour card set by Studio Pi-pa and Rocca card games by 10inc. I was also quite thrilled to have discovered some less well-known design studios like Mountain Mountain from Japan ( personally, I love the Process balance bird set) and Newcode design studio from Taiwan who have made some wonderful wooden toys including an old time favourite, yoyo.

 

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I started preparing for this collection in July and somehow encountered a lot of difficulties due to all sorts of reasons. There were products that I really wanted to stock but was not able to, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, I was lucky to be helped by many including Susumu-san in Japan who contacted the Japanese companies on my behalf without getting paid for it. I am so indebted to him!

From the very beginning, I already knew that I wanted to collaborate with a local Asian game designer to create some simple but fun games for the website to be more interactive. Yet the process of finding this person turned out to be quite a quest in itself! I eventually found Sam Chau by chance via the London College of Communication website, where I saw an announcement of his award-winning game at a competition. He was on holiday when I contacted him and I was on a retreat when he replied, so it took us a while to eventually meet and discuss the project.

The front page and the three games took about 2 1/2 months to develop and complete from start to finish, there were a lot of changes throughout, but we are both happy with the final outcome. I hope that besides the card games, toys and paper crafts available for purchase, users will be able to enjoy the interactive games at the same time.

Remember that play time is not only for children, adults need it too! Enjoy!

 

 

100% design & Tent London 2013

100% design100% design100% design 2013ceramic studio meebamboo bubble chair

Top left: Paper space by Studio Glowacka and Maria Fulford Architects. Top right: Adaptive City Taipei pavilion; Bottom left: Tunnel lighting system by Thomas.Matthews and studio design UK; Bottom middle: Ceramicstudio “Mee” by Ji Hyun Chung at Korea design pavilion; Bottom right: Bubble chair by KEV Design studio

 

Perhaps the reason why all the design trade shows take place at the same period within a 4-day frame is to cater for overseas industry people, but it’s extremely exhausting to have to go from one show to another in such a short period of time. It didn’t help by the fact that I caught a cold last week and so I had to even skip some events.

My first stop was 100% design at Earls Court, which has changed a lot over the years, but I think this year’s show was much better than the previous three years. There was a new section displaying work by design students, an emerging brands section, more international pavilions and there was even a 3-D printing pavilion.

 

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Top left: Branch Lighting System by Peter Larkam; Top middle: Crivos objetos enredados at 100% Argentine design; Top right: Dandelion foldable 3D printed chair; Main: Worldscape by Atmos studio; Bottom right: A colourful table by Alex Petunin at Russian design pavilion

 

I was rather disappointed by the work shown at the Korea design pavilion this year, as I have seen more interesting work shown in the previous years. The more crowd-pleasing was the Adaptive city Taipei pavilion, but I was particularly intrigued by the Russian design pavilion as I am not very familiar with their design scene.

 

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Top left: 100% Norway; Top right: Ceramics on a conveyor belt by Soderlund Davidson; Main: Studio Jon Male’s reBay lighting

 

The next day, I went to Tent London at Truman Brewery, a show which I have enjoyed in the previous years. I was slightly disappointed to see some design studios showing the same work from last year. Though I was also glad to see many furniture and lighting pieces merging craftsmanship into their designs, like the beautiful wooden chairs by Laura Kishimoto, perspective furniture by Group H from Korea, bamboo sticks sculptures by Mie Matsubara and woven lamps by Louise Tucker.

 

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Top left: Chairs by Laura Kishimoto; Main and bottom right: Perspective furniture by Group H; Bottom left: Wooden lamp by Trepan

 

I was sent a newsletter about one of our suppliers, Di-Classe‘s participation at the show by my Japanese friend who represents the brand in the U.K. Hence, I was able to catch up with her at the show and was shown the newer version of the “Cuore LED candles” ( which can be turned on and off by blowing over it) and new colours available for the “House tissue box”.

Elsewhere, the work shown at “Korea design membership” was too gimmicky and the Four Seasons in Shanghai pavilion was a let down. Luckily, there were some interesting work to be found at the “Fresh Taiwan” and at 100% Norway, which occupied a separate gallery opposite of the venue.

 

di Classedi ClasseTent London 2013Tent London 2013Tent London 2013Tent London 2013Tent London 2013

Top left and right: Di-Classe and the Cuore LED candles; Middle left: Furniture by Jake Phipps; Middle: Ceramics by Ikuko Iwamoto; Middle right: Folding books by Yumaman Creative & design; Bottom right: Dome lights by Handmade Industrials

 

My journey continued across London…

 

Souvenir from Asia

A long-overdue entry on some interesting finds I bought while I was traveling around Asia…

Japan

 

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Fun 3-dimensional cards from Japan

 

In my previous entries on Kyoto and Tokyo ( click here to read), I have included some stationery and cards that I bought from specific shops, but here are some others including a washi paper card holder, botanical illustrated writing paper and A4 plastic folders from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

 

namecard holderwriting paperplastic folders

Top left: washi paper card holder; top right: botanical illustration writing paper; Main: different sizes of plastic folders, great for travel!

 

The Japanese are well-known for their beautiful packaging especially when it comes to food. Hence it is hard to resist the temptation even when I have no idea what the food inside tastes like! In the basement underneath the rather complex ( and overwhelming) Tokyo station, there is a food and dining area called Gransta where you can eat at a wide range of restaurants, or buy bento boxes, snacks and souvenirs for your onward journeys. Here I found some chocolates and mints with lovely packaging that are designed especially for the opening of Tokyo station’s Marunouchi building.

Besides food, their books are also full of beautiful illustrations, and even though I tried not buy too many books when I travel, I bought a Kyoto guide book ( in Japanese) full of illustrative maps and nice photos, and “Retelling old patterns for a new world” ( with Japanese and English texts) on the Norwegian textiles designer/ artist, Inger Johanne Rasmussen.

Last but not least, a cute umbrella with a rabbit-shaped cover, which I am sure will cheer me up on many of the rainy days in London!

 

chocolatessweetssweetsnotebookbookbookumbrella

Top left and right: chocolates and sweets packaging; Middle left: New Mints packaging that celebrates the opening of the renovated Tokyo Station; Middle middle: A cool notebook with pen designed by D-Bros; Middle right: A Kyoto guide book: Bottom left: Retelling old patterns for a new world; Middle left: Rabbit umbrella

 

Taiwan

Aside from contemporary designs, traditional handicrafts and letterpress cards can also be seen in many shops in Taiwan. Previously, I have written ( click here to read) about two stationery shops in Taipei, Mogu and 324 print studio, and they both sell wonderful letterpress cards ( see below). The slightly pricey but lovely card from 324 print studio even includes 2 metal types in the pack. Cool!

 

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Top left: Mogu letterpress cards; top right: a traditional handicraft gift from a friend in Kaohsiung; Main: The cute letterpress postcard inspired by Turkish folk dance handmade by Yang Jung-Ming from 324 print studio

 

At the Suho memorial paper museum in Taipei, the small shop area sells a range of paper made products, books and even CDs. I bought a cute set of stickers that illustrate the process of paper-making, a box containing 100 pieces of floral paper lamp decoration ( a collaboration between Suho and Taiwanese design studio, Biaugust) and an intriguing and meditative CD produced by an ethnic-minority Chinese musician. The music ( without much lyrics) reminds me of nature and wild life, which is suggested by the songs’ titles… mysterious and yet powerful.

 

doreamonstickersstickerspaper flowercd

Top left: An A4 plastic Doraemon folder bought from the “100 years before the birth of Doraemon” exhibition in Taipei; Top middle: Flip stickers by Feteme studio; Top right: paper-making stickers from Sohu paper museum; Bottom left: “A flower” paper lamp decoration by Sohu paper museum and Biaugust; Bottom right: Nature-inspired music CD bought at Sohu paper museum

 

In Kaohsiung, I bought various bamboo handicrafts and a colourful and practical nylon bag for less than £1 ( after some effortless haggling) from the bamboo street ( click here to read). I also bought some natural and organic bath products from Teasoap, a factory that specialises in handmade natural soap since 1957 ( The factory is also open to the public with regular DIY soap making workshops available).

I couldn’t leave Taiwan without buying their well-known Hakka floral fabrics ( popular in the 1960s and 70s but now making a comeback). Even though I already have piles of unused fabrics at home ( collected from my travels), I am sure I will make use of them one day.

 

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Top left: Various natural bath products from Teasoap; Top right: A nylon bag from Kaohsiung; Main: Various bamboo products from Kaohsiung’s bamboo street; Middle left: a fish-shaped oven glove; middle right: Hakka floral fabrics from Yongle fabric market in Taipei; Bottom main: Stamps promoting traveling within Taiwan

 

Hong Kong

It is not always easy to find locally made designs in Hong Kong but at Kurick cafe and bookshop in Yau Ma Tei, there are many wonderful products and stationery made by local designers and artists including a range of greeting cards by Hong Kong artist, Furze Chan.

When you step into the shop inside the Hong Kong museum of art, it is easy to dismiss it and assume it is a touristy souvenir shop, but surprisingly, there are some interesting stationery and books that are hard to find elsewhere. I discovered some unusual wrapping paper here, a porcelain-inspired paper by a local design company Sze’s Creations and two folk style and graphical ones by a Chinese company Red Lantern Folk Art, selling stationery and products that feature peasant paintings produced by amateur painters from Tianjin.

 

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Top left: Furze Chan’s greeting card design; Top right: Wrapping paper by Sze’s Creations; Bottom left and right: folk style wrapping paper by Red Lantern Folkart

 

After 2 pairs of broken headphones from JAYS, I have decided to switch to a different brand. After some extensive online research, I discovered a Hong Kong brand Sound Magic that has had amazing reviews from both experts and customers. I decided to go for their highly rated E30, the sound quality is great especially for the price ( HKD $300/ £24), and I like the fact that they are proudly made in China! I sincerely hope that they will last longer than my last two pairs!

 

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My new Sound magic E30 headphones 

 

Pulse & May design series in London

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Main: Taste Taiwan at Pulse 2013; Bottom left & right: Our Taiwanese supplier, 25 Togo’s products on display

 

May is packed full of trade events in London, so I had to run around town even though I had lots of work to be completed at my desk!

I met Ashley from 25Togo in Taiwan and one day I received her email invitation to their Taste Taiwan opening at Pulse, an annual design-led gift trade show in Earls Court. I am impressed by Taiwan’s effort to promote its local designs because less than a month ago, I was at the Taiwan design booth at the Hong Kong gifts fair, it seems that they are trying hard to reach the global market.

At the show, Ashley kindly introduced me to other Taiwanese design companies, whose representatives were all eager to show me their interesting work. Since I started the business, I came to realise that the U.K. market is more conservative than the U.S. and European markets ( in terms of how consumers buy and how retail buyers place orders). I think it would a struggle for these designers or companies to receive large orders from U.K. retailers due to the environment of the market and the cultural differences in certain products that may not translate well.

As much as I would like to support them, there is a limit to the products that our small e-shop can carry. This is the reason why we need more independent shops or etailers because we are more likely to take risks than most department stores or the more mainstream retailers whose buyers would spend most of their time checking the numbers on their spreadsheets.

 

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Top left: Fun installation by Inflate; Main: Architonic; Bottom left: The Bibliochaise by Nobody & Co.; Bottom right: Karim Rashid giving a talk on design

 

A week later, I visited a new interior trade show called May Design Series in ExCel. One of the highlights of the show was a talk given by the high-profile multi-disciplinary designer, Karim Rashid. I can’t say that I am a fan but I was curious to hear what he had to say. As expected, the seminar area was packed and I felt like I was at a film premiere waiting for the celebrity star to appear.

Karim is charismatic and energetic in real life ( not surprising). He insisted that designers need to break away from the archetype and find a new design language by observing what is happening now rather than looking for inspiration from the past. However, the woman next to me was not impressed because she kept yawning and looking at her watch throughout the talk, a sharp contrast from those who queued up to take photographs with the designer after the talk!

Aside from the regular booths, there was a Material Xperience section displaying a wide range of materials where visitors were encouraged to touch and feel. Elsewhere, I was drawn to Dutch designer Ernst Koning/ Ilias Ernst‘s quirky designs like the Nail cloud lamp. But the most interesting was seeing some upcycled furniture produced by a new social enterprise, The living furniture project. It is an organisation that reduces landfill waste and provide jobs and training to the homeless. It teams up with different furniture designers to produce unique pieces on commission. It is great to see more social enterprises ( and merging with design) starting up and working towards making the society a better place for people to live in. The world definitely needs more of them!

 

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Top left & middle left: Material Xperience; Helen Amy Murray’s sculptural textile; Middle middle: Ilias Ernst’s Nail cloud; Middle right: Ilias Ernst’s illumimate; Bottom left: Ilias Ernst; Upcycle furniture by Nic Parnell at The Living furniture project

 

 

Creative Taiwanese packaging & graphics

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Sweets/ candies packaging

 

I have always been a fan of Japanese packaging but when I was in Taiwan, I was quite excited by the creative and humourous packaging especially with food. From tea to honey, rice, candies, crackers and cakes, every package has its own style and uniqueness. Here are just some snapshots that I took while I was traveling:

 

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Tea packaging

 

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Left: Seafood crackers; Right: Rice packaging

 

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An interesting range of food packaging including red bean, honey and banana cheese pie

 

Exhibition graphics and museums’ signage are equally interesting, I especially love their toilets’ signage:

 

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Exhibitions’ graphics

 

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Cute oilets’ signage at museums and shops

 

Design & craft shopping in Dadaocheng & Datong

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The beautiful ArtYard is a relaxing place for tea, coffee and craft shopping

 

Dadaocheng:

ArtYard ( 67, Sec. 1, Dihua St)- Converted from a historical building built in 1923 near the Xiahai City God Temple, the airy and relaxing ArtYard is consisted of a craft shop, art gallery, tea room and cafe. Some of the beautiful ceramics are sourced from Japan, but others are locally produced including their own brand, Hakka blue. I love the small courtyards within the building and the retro South St. Delight tea room… if only this were in London, I would probably visit it everyday even if I am not really a tea lover!

Further down the street inside the A.S.Watson building, there is smaller ArtYard (1, Lane 32, Sec. 1, Dihua St), which houses a textiles studio/ shop InBloom, Bookstore 1920s, Luguo cafe and Thinker’s theatre. These artistic lifestyle shops and cafes blend extraordinarily well in this old neighbourhood and has given it a new spirit without destroying its soul.

 

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ArtYard: InBloom and Bookstore 1920s

 

Datong:

Walking towards the Taipei Train Station into the Datong district, there are two gems hidden in a narrow alleyway… Ri Xing Typography ( 13, Ln 97, Taiyuan Rd) is a small factory that houses the world’s last complete set of traditional Chinese character molds for lead-type casting. This family-run factory was founded in 1969 and it now hopes to turn the factory into a museum and digitise lead type into computer fonts as part of its preservation and restoration plan.

The factory is not very big but it is like a living museum full of lead types. With only Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau still using traditional Chinese characters these days, preservation is essential to pass on this irreplaceable heritage. Hence the owner’s effort to preserve this heritage is highly commendable.

 

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Last of its kind: Ri Xing typography shop

 

Opposite the Ri Xing typography shop is another wonderful letterpress workshop and stationery shop, 324 print studio ( No. 16, Lane 97, Taiyuan Rd), created by artist/ illustrator, Yang Jung-Ming. This shop not only sells letterpress stationery but it is also full of vintage curiosities. I am always excited to find independent and quirky shops like this when I travel, when streets around the world are becoming more homogenous, shops like this is like a breath of fresh air!

 

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A letterpress lovers’ haven: 324 print studio

 

Not far from the MRT Zhongshan Station, there is a colonial-style building ( built in 1926) that once served as the residence of the U.S. ambassador. This building was abandoned for almost 20 years before it was turned into SPOT Taipei Film House ( 18, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd.) in 2002. It is run by the Taiwan Film and Culture Association with the international acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien as its president. Apart from an art house cinema, it also houses a gallery, a coffee shop and a branch of Eslite Bookstore that stocks a large collection of film-related materials and local designs and crafts.

 

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Spot Taipei film House and shop

 

Between MRT Zhongshan Station and MRT Shuanglian station, there are many interesting independent shops including:

Booday ( No.18-1, Lane 25, Nanjing W. Rd), a Taiwanese lifestyle brand that sells t-shirts, fashion accessories and stationery. All the products are handmade in their studio including a range of cute letterpress cards. The small shop also has a cafe upstairs with regular art exhibition and even cooking classes.

Next to Booday is Lovely Taiwan, a gallery-like shop that promotes Taiwanese culture and sells crafts made by local artisans including the Taiwanese aborigines.

One of the most interesting design magazines in Taiwan is called PPaper ( No. 2, Lane 26, Section 2, Zhongshan North Rd), this publishing house also has a retail outlet in the area selling stationery, home and fashion accessories ( N.B. the shop is only open from Wednesdays to Sundays).

Ruskasa ( No. 15-1, Lane 26, Section 2, Zhongshan North Rd) is a Taiwanese handmade furniture shop that delivers simple but well-crafted wooden furniture that are similar to the styles of the Japanese and Scandinavian.

Hidden in an alley near the Museum of Contemporary Art is 61 Note ( No. 6, Alley 10, Lane 64, Nanjing West Rd), a small gallery/ cafe/ shop that stocks timeless and well-crafted Japanese designs that are hard to find in other local shops.

 

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Top left: Booday and Lovely Taiwan; top right: PPaper shop; Main: Ruskasa; Bottom left: 61 Note

 

Earthtree/ Motherhouse ( No. 8, Lane 20, Section 2, Zhongshan North Rd) both share the same retail space and values, selling fair trade and eco-friendly products. Earthtree carries People Tree and Nepali Bazaro, while Motherhouse is a Japanese brand that specialises in leather handbags and accessories produced in developing countries.

Walking into Mymilly zakkaNo. 6, Lane 33, Section 1, Zhongshan North Rd) is like wandering into a neighbourhood household store in Japan ( or a Japanese family’s home)… it is cosy and full of wonderful Japanese household products including tableware, stationery and textiles. A sweet shop!

Similar to the bamboo shops in Kaohsiung, Lin tien Coopery ( 108 Zhongshan N Rd Sec 1) is the last of its kind in Taipei. Housed in a Japanese style red brick building, this shop has been trading at the same spot since 1928. The founder, Lin Xinju had worked as an apprentice and learned his skills from his Japanese master before setting up his own store. The shop still sells handcrafted buckets and barrels made form red cypress like it did all those years ago, amazing!

 

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Top left & main: the wonderful myMilly Zakka shop front; Top right: Colourful birdhouses above Earthtree/ Motherhouse

 

Food & drinks:

Next to the Lin tien Barrel Store is a Baroque style red brick building that has been carefully restored and converted into Monument cafe ( No. 2, Changan West Rd) by its passionate Taiwanese owner. A lover of historical architecture, he hired a restoration team from Tainan and after 8 months’ of work, the cafe was born in 2006, and it even won him a restoration/ architectural award in 2007.

Home to much of the Japanese colonial administration under the Japanese occupation, this area is still full of Japanese restaurants, though the most popular one must be Fei Chien Wu ( 1F., 13-2, Alley 121, Chungshan N. Rd., Sec. 1). This cafeteria-style restaurant is famous for its low prices, generous portions and grilled eel! It is not a place to linger but it is fast, tasty and very reasonable. Arrive either earlier or later to avoid long queues at the busy lunch hour!

Almost opposite the myMilly Zakka is a dark brown Japanese style wooden building which used to be a former residence of a Japanese photographer almost 90 years ago. The building was restored by a local architect and now the ground floor functions as The Island cafe ( Lane 33, Section 1, Zhongshan North Road) with the architect’s office on the first floor. This cafe reminds me of the cafes in Karuizawa, Japandim, subtle, atmospheric and very relaxing. A perfect spot for a light lunch or coffee after some sightseeing in the area.

 

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Main: Monument cafe; Middle & bottom left: The Island cafe; Middle right: Grilled eel over rice at Fei Chien Wu; bottom right: Lin Tien Barrel Store

 

There are many other interesting shopping areas in Taipei such as Yongkang St and the East district, but I will save it for some other time…

 

 

Taipei’s bid for 2016 World Design Capital

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The Red House in Xiemen

 

The reason why I want to emphasise Taipei’s bid to become the next World Design Capital ( after Cape Town in 2014) is because their effort can be seen and felt while I was in Taipei. They even dedicated a website for this, so they are quite determined to make this happen. And from what I have seen, I think they rightly deserve the title.

Taipei is one of my favourite Asian cities and it is often overlooked by travelers from the West because it is less exotic than Bangkok, not as ‘cool’ as Tokyo nor as cosmopolitan as Hong Kong. Yet Taipei is a city full of hidden gems, it is culturally rich, eco and heritage conscious, but best of all is that the people there are generally warm, welcoming, polite ( mostly well-educated) and humble.

 

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Top and main: Songshan Cultural and Creative Park; bottom: Huashan creative park

 

In recent years, several heritage buildings and sites in Taipei have been restored and converted into creative parks. One of them is Huashan 1914 creative park, a 7.2-hectare former winery built in 1914. Now art or photography exhibitions and concerts are regularly being held here, but there are also shops, cinema and restaurants on the site. Another similar site is the 6.6-hectares Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, a former tobacco plant built in 1937. This park is home to the Taiwan design museum and design center, however, it is a a rather confusing site with many warehouses and not enough clear directions. It is especially easy to get lost in the maze-like factory building.

 

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Inside The Red House

 

Another interesting building is the The Red House originally built in 1908 in the Xiemen district. This historical octagon building has been transformed into a cultural hub with a theatre, exhibition area, shops selling local designs, tea house as well as outdoor cafe and handicrafts market.

 

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Treasure hill artists village

 

Treasure hill was home to many former veterans since the 1940s, now the shantytown-like area has been transformed into an artist village called Treasure Hill artist village. The village reopened in 2010, although not many of the original families moved back to the village, it is still interesting to see the local and art community living or working side by side. Not all studios and exhibition space are open at all times, however, it is worth visiting the area because of its unique atmosphere and history.

 

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Seed project IV – A mobile museum near Taipei 101

 

The concept of the Seed project is quite unusual, it aims to integrate art, culture, architecture and community together and has “popped up” annually in different parts of the city since 2009. The 4th seed project is a mobile museum that hosts temporary exhibitions on art, architecture and life. The current exhibition is “Breathing architecture” ( until 10th May), featuring work by WOHA, a Singaporean architectural firm with strong emphasis on nature in order to create a greener and healthier living environment.

 

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Efforts that aims to make the city greener and livable for all

 

The Taipei city government should be commended for their efforts to transform the city’s urban landscape. Walking around the city, I often noticed abandoned or concrete space between buildings that have been turned into small community gardens with plants and seating. I love this idea and I think all cities should do the same to make the city greener and more livable.

 

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Honestly, I am not sure how these World design capitals are selected, but I think it is about time that Taipei and Taiwanese designs are being recognised by the international world!

Good luck Taipei!