Traditional Chinese Craft Meets Contemporary Design | Interview with PINWU from Hangzhou

Pinwu design studio produce beautiful pieces of traditional Chinese craft in a contemporary design aesthetic. Created by Zhang Lei, Christoph John and Jovana Bogdanovic, designers who come from three different countries and cultures, they have created a number of unique projects that are gaining international recognition.  They are dear friends of buyMeDesign and we caught up with Jovana to find out a little more about Pinwu and what have they been up to lately.

Tell us about Pinwu, Your studio is an amazing mix of east and west, traditional and contemporary.

Yes, it’s a mix of East and West, but I think that finally, we are not East, we are not West, we are something in the middle. It’s already become so mixed up that is hard to tell what is East and what is West.

When Chris and I moved to china we were excited by Chinese and Eastern things but we knew that our mindset was very Western. The Pinwu project is so exciting because of the mix – East and West, yes, but also different characters, different people, and different ideas.

Pinwu Studio From Hangzhou

© Pinwu –

The process of Pinwu started slowly, and we definitely didn’t have a definite concept we were working towards. We just started working together because we liked to work together. Soon, the style, the language, the feeling, grew into Pinwu.

Pinwu for us is our baby, and it is growing, and it already has its own taste. It’s not just one of our tastes, its Pinwu. We treat him like a person, we don’t focus on what we like as individual designers its about what fits with Pinwu. We are all quite different, Chris likes functionality, I like colour, pattern and decoration, and Lei likes other things too. But we put these things aside and follow Pinwu and focus on the feeling of Pinwu

What are the traits or personality of Pinwu?

Pinwu is definitely based on Chinese craft, we explore and learn and discover Chinese craft in all its small parts and use it as a base in different ways. We use the crafts but we switch the ideas. This is the core of the Pinwu – the craft is the same but we give it our own order.

Pinwu’s items are as decorative as they are functional. We believe in simple shapes because we don’t believe in making things too complicated. The uncut messy edges can become part of the design, we don’t have to be perfect in every way, we prefer to be honest. In the end, the rough edges become the real beauty, the rough edges are the personality. Just like when you read a book, you can interact with it how you like. It means that it interacts easily with you.

What do you think are the characteristics of Chinese design and do you think it is under-represented in the international design community?

I never was amazingly curious about what other people do, or know of many famous designers from around the world. But we do have a circle of people/designers around us. It is certainly not a huge circle maybe, especially considering how big China is.

Maybe it is the Country’s history or because the Chinese education system and Chinese families do not often encourage careers in creativity and design. People are encouraged to go into standard careers. So there are not so many designers here that want to make a real change or do something purely for design. They are often more interested in the industry side of design.

However, they do exist. In our Handmade in Hangzhou projected we invited around 20 designers to come and to work with bamboo from the local area. We did find people that would put money and industry aside and just think of something pure. We asked all sorts of designers in architecture, art, music etc and they all came to investigate a material and what it can mean. The work we did with bamboo we showed in Swtizerland, Milan, in Hong Kong, and most recently in Paris.

Rong | Pinwu's Journey from Hangzhou to the Louvre

© Pinwu –

It was really great to see how surprised people were that this came from China. They didn’t expect such creativity and we felt very proud to be presenting what had started so small. This year we are working with silk and will continue with different materials for the next five years.

For the last In bed With Designers event, Pinwu did a makeover of the Mini Hotel’s lobby. Tell us about that?

This really was a very amazing and unique collaboration and an unexpected treat. I have known Florence (Founder of buyMeDesign) for 4 years since we met in Shanghai. We have always wanted to do something together, but it is often difficult to find a chance.

We came to HK for BoDW and In bed With Designers and we had a lot of paper bamboo leaves with us, all completely handmade. We bought maybe 3000 leaves with us, because of the shipping expenses we would not be able to bring them all back to Hangzhou.

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So we saw this opportunity that the Mini Hotel could be the space for the leaves to bloom and for a trace of Pinwu to be left behind in Hong Kong. So we had a nice party at the Mini Hotel and then we thought we could decorate a little bit, even though we didn’t really have permission. It was really fun working with the Pinwu and buyMeDesign teams together all night to recreate the Mini Hotel’s lobby.

This is just the sort of thing Pinwu finds itself doing. An enthusiastic and crazy design moment that leaves you feeling very nice. Together with buyMeDesign, our passion that day will make a lasting difference for the Mini Hotel.

As we look forward to seeing you at the next In bed With Designers event in May, what are your opinions of such boutique designer events?

In bed With Designers is a very nice concept because you choose a few designers and you ask them to do something very intimate, in the room where you will sleep. It makes the user and the designer much closer. Especially as the Mini Hotel is a little boutique hotel it gives a very private and very special atmosphere and it joins us all a little bit closer; the owner of the hotel, the designer, the curator – it makes us all part of one design family that is much stronger than individual designers.

It’s a really important and beautiful concept as it puts the onus on pleasure. And it really lets visitors experience things for their uniqueness and rarity and intimacy.

Pinwu has achieved a lot, with truly compelling designs and international recognition. What’s next for you and what’s your goal?

We are of course very proud of what we have achieved in the last few years. But it does develop slowly. For us, Pinwu and the concept of exploring Chinese craft, it is going to be a lifetime project. It is a very slow process; we are going to do it for the next 50 years. So wherever it takes us is OK. We want to focus and get better and see where it takes us, that’s why we call it ‘future tradition’.

I’m not sure what our call is. One desire is to have a small showroom in Shanghai and Paris. We don’t know when though. We like the balance of life, the relaxed free time and the hectic busy moments. By creating we have not only created a new language of design but also our whole lifestyle. The whole studio of ten people, enjoy the Pinwu lifestyle.

We are based on the edge of Hangzhou in a national park. It’s very quiet and we are quite isolated here. But we like it to be this way and we are enjoying creating and designing together with Pinwu.

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