As chief designer at Pinwu Design Studio in Hangzhou, Zhang Lei has taken the art of deconstructing traditional Chinese crafts and reimagining it for the modern world to new heights. Zhang and his crew, Christoph John and Jovana Bogdanovic, fuse old and new, cultures and styles to create their line of award-winning handmade home furnishings that are as artistic as they are functional. After showcasing their singular work at last winter’s Business of Design Week, Squarefoot chatted with Zhang.
How is “fusing” design elements different from “combining” them, as it says in your bio?
Our core design idea is “Rong,” and it shows two actions: one is to thaw, one is melting. Melting is the process that we hope to thaw out traditional crafts completely, breaking up to elements and debris, and then putting it into the contemporary design.
The trend toward “local” — food, design, materials etc — has really gained traction in the last few years. Why do you think that is and how does it influence industrial design?
The handicraft and manufacturing industry is not an either/or, and the relationship between them should be an entirety of combination. The machine is not a substitute for handwork, but an extension. Handicrafts are not just the beneficial supplement of industrial production; actually industrial production itself contains the spirit of handicraft. Because manual spirit, in fact, is the mirror of the human heart. There is a lack of a beating, living heart even at a high level of industrialisation and technology content. It also won’t produce any outstanding industrial products.
Is your work art or functional furniture?
Both, it’s not only a product, artwork or luxury item, it’s also useful. As with decoration, some is art and some is more practical, it is different from luxury. The price maybe is more expensive than regular products, but it’s more intimate stuff because it contains designers’ backgrounds; it presents your lifestyle but not the luxury life. What is lifestyle? Take a placemat for example. Its colour expresses the atmosphere of dinner. I think ambiguous design methods can touch your heart and that’s the most important thing.
What defines good design for you?
Design has different connotations in different fields. In the furniture area, its meaning should be to satisfy life demands. Design, arts and culture are miniatures of the world with a different emphasis. They are also progressive processes. They all embody the natural law and reflect humanity somehow.
What are you ultimately trying to say through Pinwu?
Our products not only reflect the quality of a slower life and environmental ecology, but the origins of the continual design of Chinese traditional culture. We inherit the traditional crafts, which are about to go missing, and bring more awareness to Chinese culture. We hope to use the power of designers and traditional crafts to give those obsolete and abandoned crafts an entry point into our modern life. That’s the most important element to us.