Seven Singapore-based designers had their works shown at the prestigious Milan Design Week in April 2018, as part of the iconic Handmade 2018 exhibition by Wallpaper*. They were invited to design products based on the theme of Wellness & Wonder, as a result of an ongoing collaboration between the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) and Wallpaper*. Dsg speaks to them about their wondrous Handmade journey.
When Elyn Wong was approached by Wallpaper* to participate in Handmade 2018, she never imagined that it would bring her to the doorstep of a century-old castle. The fashion designer and founder of Stolen, a local womenswear label, had flown over to Mettlach, a municipality in Germany, to meet the manufacturer that Wallpaper* had “matchmade” her with.
This was Villeroy & Boch, one of the largest producers of premium porcelain and ceramics worldwide. With almost 300 years of heritage behind them, Villeroy & Boch is a recognised and esteemed brand. Working with such a huge company left Elyn in awe.
“They have their own museum, their own castle, their own restaurant and hotel!” she recounted. Her design, made up of cut tiles by Villeroy & Boch, is a reflexology pathway meant to create a sense of relaxation and calmness when walking over it.
The manufacturer was generous in its approach. “They made an effort to allow me to understand their full production process of their tiles and even gave me a very thorough tour of their ‘no-outsiders-allowed’ factory,” said Elyn.
The experience cemented her belief in the “cross-pollination of crafts and disciplines”. From knowing nothing about tiles at the start of the journey, she has now fallen in love with them.
“Tiles and fashion would not be the two things that people usually put together. That’s the beauty of this journey for me. This exchange has been a very beautiful and rewarding journey that I will remember for life” she said.
Olivia Lee too enjoyed her journey. The industrial designer flew to Cebu, Philippines, to work with Nature Squared, producers of exquisite luxury finishes made from natural materials to realise her design. Intriguingly titled “The Secret to Longevity”, hers is a collection of wellness accessories all made from natural materials such as pufferfish skin and shagreen.
Not a stranger to factory and supplier visits, Olivia was surprised at the excellent service and humility they showed.
“Usually I am the one who is nit-picking at imperfections and quality control, so, I was both amused and impressed that the product manager himself kept insisting they could do better when I thought the work was already quite well done” she remarked.
Olivia was full of praise for the Nature Squared team that went to work immediately after she requested for one of the pieces to be resprayed even though it was only a day before shipping. It was this culture of excellence that Olivia loved about her manufacturer.
“If the people on the ground live by the ethos of their founders, you know you are working with a very good partner” she concluded.
While Olivia visited the Philippines, Gabriel Tan headed to faraway Czech Republic to produce his “fruit altars” – a set of accessories to display and store fruits or vegetables – with TON. The table top items are meant to remind us of the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diet.
Made from wood, the curvaceous nature of the fruit altars was made possible with the help of TON’s steam-bending techniques. This wood-bending technique allows for greater possibilities when working with wood. It was this specific production technique that inspired the shapes and forms for the collection. The art of bending wood made popular by TON’s founder, Michael Thonet, in 1895, is an arduous process.
“Steam bending requires the craftsmen to ‘feel’ the wood manually. The craftsmen have to feel the resistance of each piece of wood and apply the relevant force and speed while bending the wood,” explained Gabriel.
The shallow baths found in the recuperative and healing Japanese onsen provided inspiration for WOHAbeing, a homeware brand launched in 2017 by WOHA – a Singapore-based architectural practice.
WOHAbeing worked with a familiar partner in apaiser, an Australian owned bathware designing and manufacturing company to create “The Sampan Shower Bath”.
This shower bath, made from a stone composite developed by apaiser, has a distinct design with its strong simple geometry – I like to think of it as poetic yet practical” said Wong Mun Summ, founder of WOHAbeing.
Richard Hassell, co-founder of WOHAbeing, added that the team treated the shower bath “as a landscape element for your bathroom”. He continued: “We wanted you to feel like you’re on a relaxing journey on water, a little escape from your hectic day that adds wellness and precious me-time to your life.”
Theseus Chan, Designer of the Year at the 2006 President’s Design Awards, first began the project with a list of woods, which have healing or medicinal properties, in mind. Having a strong affinity with wood, he wanted to design something made from them. His original idea was to design a minimalist shelf with various sculptures of trees. Eventually, the idea morphed into bookends.
Unable to fly over to Brianza in Italy, Theseus had to put complete trust in the hands of his manufacturer RIVA 1920 to breathe life into his idea. RIVA1920, a furniture company, predominantly uses woods of reforestation for their products.
“The bookends were created within a very tight timeframe, but the results were remarkable, and they look really great!” he said.
The entire Handmade experience was probably the most profound for industrial product graduate Edmund Zhang, who was picked as Wallpaper’s Next Generation Singapore Designer in 2018.
The Squeezy Lamp (a desk lamp that becomes brighter with every squeeze) began as part of his final-year thesis project while he was still studying at the National University of Singapore. From a rough vision, Edmund went on to develop the idea further by making several prototypes.
In order to realise his design, he had to learn and get comfortable with electronics and programming. Even though his supervisors and course mates were supportive, he still found himself stumped on many occasions.
“I can’t tell you the number of times when I was stuck and paralysed with making a crucial design decision” he recalled.
His hard work paid off with his prototype being debuted at the Singapore Design Week in March and later at Milan Design Week in April. “It is always a good thing to show your work out to the world, and see what they think about it. Singapore is only so small” he rejoiced.