China / People

Wood is at the heart of his designs

By Chen Nan (China Daily) Updated: 2012-12-15 08:26

Wood is at the heart of his designs

When Chinese furniture designer Lu Yongzhong looked for a place to open the flagship shop for his brand, Banmoo, he didn't choose popular commercial areas and modernized buildings. Instead, he set his sights on a hundred-year-old house built in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Located on the bank of Suzhou Creek in Shanghai, the building looked dusty, damp and abandoned. Outside the building is a noisy food market, which is full of crowds and vendors, with vegetable leaves and fruit peels scattered on the floor.

"It's a place which enables me to forget about time and to observe life," says Lu, who started the brand in 2006.

The commonplace market became Lu's inspiration of designing windows for Hermes flagship store in Beijing for 2008 winter and 2009 summer seasons.

Days of observing lives on the street stimulated the designer to use 170-meter-long wood strips crafted into "annual rings" to represent passing days and years. He also scattered 300 dots on the rings, which he calls "memory dots".

"It's a story of time and a story of memory. Like the market, people gather there and purchase food, which is part of their lives. Time can create space," he says. "Designing furniture is about designing life."

As the founder and chief designer of Banmoo, the 43-year-old has long been engaged in space and furniture design. His work reflects his respect for traditional Chinese culture and his own unique perspective on contemporary design.

His design philosophy is told through his brand name, which is composed of ban (meaning half) and mu (wood) in Chinese.

"When I think of furniture material, I want to return to the starting point, which is also my philosophy of design," he says. "Unlike the West, where stone was used as material to build houses in ancient times, wood is commonly used in China, from furniture to houses. That's our culture."

For Lu, unlike the coldness of steel and stone, wood is warm and connected with people. Different colors of wood represent the owners' personalities, as he says.

The other word in the name of his brand, ban, expresses his idea about life as well as design.

"Being half gives myself more choices and enough freedom," he says.

Lu jokes that his "split life" inspired him to do the brand design.

Born in Sichuan province and studied architecture at Shanghai Tongji University, Lu had been teaching in the university from 1990 to 2010.

Being a teacher, says Lu, demands lots of theories, especially when students ask for answers. However, practical design seems to break rules in books, which allows Lu to experiment.

"On the one hand, I had to adhere to the rules taught from books. On the other hand, I broke rules in my design works," he says.

"When you want to learn marketing strategy, it's not necessary to look over books. Observing a vendor riding a tricycle and selling apples might be of great help because it's the most basic and useful strategy," he adds.

The designer is showing his attitude about design and his perspective about the relationship between design and the contemporary world through an exhibition in Beijing, which reviews his works since the founding of the brand.

A wooden screen is put in the front door of the exhibition, which Lu says shows Chinese people's personality: conservative and modest.

Interpreting personalities of local people is one of the designer's approaches to designing furniture and home decorations.

His Suzhou Chair collections, which he was invited to exhibit at Milan Design Week in 2012, and the Anhui series, including desk, chair and couch, portray the personalities of local people living in Suzhou and Anhui.

The designer's first collection, Joss Stick - a series of incense holders, stationery and tableware - is also displayed at the exhibition.

The exhibition is ongoing at Gehua Design Hall at Gehua Tower, Beijing, until Feb 6.

(China Daily 12/15/2012 page11)

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