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PURITY OF INSPIR A TION

陈雯西Wenxi Chen 2016-06-01 11:24

Samuel Chan’s career is built on a love of woodworking. Born in Hong Kong China but having emigrated to England in the 1970s, Chan was educated in the UK and received his Masters in Furniture Design from Buckinghamshire University. Even a casual glance of his creations tells you that they were conceived by someone who is profoundly in-tune with the spirit of design – the purity of line, proportion, and superb craftsmanship are apparent and are a trademark of Chan’s work.


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While his heritage is Chinese, Chan has his own roots deeply in London. His company, Channels, has a 20 year history in the vibrant metropolis, and Chan speaks fondly of his city. “London is a very multifaceted city,” he says, “The city’s education in terms of design is very successful. This aspect can be clearly seen in that fact that many design studios across Europe have English designers working in them. Being a designer in the UK has given me many opportunities and there’s a lot of mutual respect in the designer circles. If a client comes to me asking me to copy another designer’s work, I’ll tell them no.” While he does not say it explicitly, it does feel like a subtle commentary on the state of China’s creative industry and its poor reputation for respect of intellectual property.


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In an attempt to promote its creative chops, Shanghai has been promoting large scale design events such as Design Shanghai and Shanghai Fashion Week. While the hardware is most certainly there, Chan feels that there’s room for improvement when it comes to the software. He comments: “One thing I noticed, for example, was that even though the exhibition (Design Shanghai) was already open to the public, there was still a worker painting the walls. The doors were open but the preparations weren’t ready. To me, if it’s open – it should be nished. In the West this sort of thing would not be allowed. If you do it, you do it the best. This is software.” However, it’s not all criticism. Chan is a rm believer in Shanghai’s potential and its heritage: “I was walking along the Bund the other day and it’s very, very impressive! To think that the structures from the 1920s and 1930s can still amaze people today... I think it’s fair to say that Shanghai de nitely has the right conditions and history to be a true capital of design.”


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The potential for Shanghai’s place as a capital of design stemmed from a discussion regarding the meaning of such an accolade. For Chan, though many cities want to make such a claim, only a city that truly looks after its designers and genuinely tries to help them can be a capital of design. “What is design without designers?” he asks, “The city must have their heart in promoting and supporting design. For example, in the UK there was an initiative where if a graduate designer goes to work for a studio, the government is directly involved in subsidizing the studio’s expenses. Many design studios are very small and cannot support a large work force, so this initiative means that the government is directly involved in funding the design industry and giving designers an opportunity to pursue their line of work.” Other cities have a claim to be capitals of design due to their history. Milan, the home of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano (Milan Furniture Fair) launched in 1961, is a prime example of this. Originally set up to showcase Italian furniture, the Milan Furniture Fair is now the largest trade fair of its kind in the world. Even though there are plenty of larger, more globalized cities, many brands nonetheless launch their product lines in Milan.


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Despite the strength of Europe’s design scene, only a fool would deny the shift of the in uence to Asia. “My wife is an architect,” Chan explains, “and I remember that when we were studying in the 1980s and 90s that Hong Kong’s architects were very successful. There were lots of new projects and developments. But the last few years there’s probably not much more space to develop, therefore Hong Kong architects have been looking towards the hot markets in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, etc. for business opportunities. In that sense, the good designers of Hong Kong are being drawn out of the region and are rarely doing developments there anymore. Sure, there are some projects but the scale of the developments on the mainland is much bigger – it’s a different level altogether.” Chan’s company Channels was also drawn to the mainland market. If you have the time, go to the Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel in Shanghai to see his furniture in person.


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We asked Chan where he gets his inspiration from after almost 30 years of designing... does he ever get burnt out? “To stay inspired I go to many different countries to see different things. There’s always a little sketchbook in my bag and I will immediately sketch out anything that inspires me. I don’t use a camera – always sketch. Many times when I have to design something I flip through this sketchbook for inspiration. ” he explains.


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“These days where do young designers get their inspiration from? The internet. Let’s say they want to look for inspiration for a chair, so they go online and find hundreds or thousands of chair photos. But this is not inspiration. This is just looking at other people’s work! Inspiration should be natural and organic. You see many designs looking the same now, because too often, designers are getting their ideas from the same places.”

Samuel Chan’s success did not blossom in a vacuum. His beautiful ideas stem from the many sparks of beauty that he sees in the world. He leaves us with his insight into what it takes to be a good designer, particularly relevant to a digitally connected generation where it’s all too easy to find ideas to copy: “To be original, you have to make the effort to find your own inspiration out in the world rather than on a computer screen.”



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