Founded in 2011 by Hongchao Wang and Peng You, and based in New York City and London, Benwu Studio specialises in furniture, product and spatial design. The practice’s distinct work has left traces in homes, galleries and museums; the designers believe that “good conceptual thinking can be applied to anything, and new experiences can stimulate creativity. We immerse ourselves in all kinds of subjects…Inspired and refreshed, our dreams are made into reality through beautiful craftsmanship”. Design China caught up with the duo to uncover more.
Where are you both originally from, and where are you based now?
Peng You: Hongchao and I were both born and raised in Suzhou, China – a city where roofs are tiled in grey, the walls are splattered white, and the gardens are meticulously designed by architects. These are our earliest memories that drew us into design and architecture.
We started our collaboration whilst still in school, and founded Benwu Studio in the summer of 2011. We have established a presence in New York City and London since 2012.
Where and what did you study?
Peng You: I’m in the second year of my Masters degree – Design Products at Royal College of Art in London – and have apprenticed under Tord Boontje, Philippe Malouin, and Sarah van Gameren. My partner is currently studying MAS Design for Luxury & Craftsmanship at Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) in Switzerland.
How and why did you establish Benwu Studio?
Hongchao: We established Benwu Studio (back in 2011) in order to create an identity for our first collaboration. As we progress as young Chinese designers working and studying overseas, we hope to blend our Chinese roots into Western philosophy. However, we have come to realise that practicing as a “Chinese designer” is not just about repeating cultural clichés or what the Western world has already established; it is more so about conceiving new elements, visions and styles from your own perspective. Works that can actually inspire others.
What does “Benwu” actually mean?
Hongchao: The idea of our design manifesto was inspired by the Zen philosophy term “Benwu”, which means “unchangeable substance”. We believe that good design is a simple object of such perpetual integrity.
Tell us more about what you do.
Peng You: Since establishing our studio, we have mostly concentrated on product and experimental design. So far, we have several projects that focus on method-developing; for example, the Twig Vessel collection and the Food Waste Factory Project. We have a couple of projects on the go at the moment, such as the Float Lamp, which focus on science. We haven’t made too much in terms of profit just yet though, so it is pretty hard to continue doing what we really want to do. So, we’ve built up our client base and stretched into spatial and exhibition design – and we are also somewhat involved in furniture consulting and packaging design with clients in both the UK and the US.
What are you currently working on?
Peng You: We are just about to produce our Living Material collection. We are also taking on some client projects and will be initiating our 2014 collection, which we managed to launch in Milan.
Where do you hope to be in 3-5 years’ time?
Hongchao: It is really hard to forecast what the design world will be like in 3-5 years; however, as a Chinese national, I feel a certain obligation to contribute my knowledge and ability to the Chinese design industry and market. And I’m definitely looking forward to expanding our business there. We welcome any opportunities for cooperation both locally and overseas!