While the New York International Gift Fair plays host to all variety of tchotchke, knick-knack, doodad and gewgaw, the more refined work tends to stand out among the visual supersaturation. Case in point: the understated debut collection of newcomers Benwu Studio collectively bore the hallmarks of minimalist design, yet each piece had a fascinating backstory rooted in Chinese culture. Indeed, designers Hongchao Wang and Peng You, currently based in Cleveland, Ohio and London respectively, began collaborating in order to "focus on materials, traditional techniques and crafts. Designs are highly inspired by fashionable/architectural elements and Zen philosophy."
The "Sunmao" stool takes its name from the Chinese term for "tenons and joints," drawing on an ancient construction technique that is now familiar mostly as a wooden construction puzzle/toy. It is perhaps best explained by its fabrication video:
The "Hakkak" Lamp, designed to work as a pendant or a floor lamp, is also inspired by ancient building techniques, but it requires a bit more explanation:
The idea behind Hakkak was inspired by debris found from a Hakka Round House in Fujian, China. We realized that there could be potential hidden behind such a tiny piece of debris. Before modern architectural materials such as cement and steel were invented, traditional mortar was constantly used by the Chinese for 1500 years by adding sticky rice soup into the limestone mortar. They build their monumental pieces such as the Great Wall with it. Unfortunately, use of traditional mortar has gradually faded away from people's memory these days.
We decided to critically experiment with this traditional mortar, self-concocting our own re-mixture based on the ancient Sanhetu technique and also the modern laboratory way to attempt an ultra durable sample similar to those debris found in the Hakka round house. After 14 attempts we developed our own formula of making the mortar with almost the same quality but with various beautiful textured appearances.
The HPL-SRM (Hakka Pendant Lamp Sticky Rice Mortar) prototype is still a work in progress. With a separate 3 part mold for press molding and a strong wooden framework structure inside, the final product will ready to be launched in next summer.
The "Mapo" (pronounced ma-PWUH) tofu knife is named after a famous Szechuan dish: legend has it that "raw bamboo is the perfect material to cut tofu because a bamboo knife won't spoil the taste of tofu and actually cuts better compared to a steel knife."
Mapo is made of reconsolidated bamboo which is a high-performance and eco-friendly material. It is a high-density and ultra storng bamboo material which overcomes the normal bamboo shape distortion and splits caused by seasonal change. It is also moisture-resistant, fluoridated and fire resistant, which is perfect for both home and professional kitchens. The cutting edge of mapo is rounded rather than sharp so it is also safe for kids...
Lastly, the "Giggle" bag is a collapsible wool felt bag that incorporates a playful design element.