Kim Sang Yoon

Not many people know about space designers. What exactly do you do?
When a structure is completed, a certain form of space is created within it. My job is to contemplate what to fill the space with from a designer’s perspective. Therefore, my job involves everything from interior decorating to everything else including lighting and furniture. For example, creating the lighting fixture like the one on the cover of <Sulwhasoo> would be my job. A chef from New York whom I met was also a designer and writer who comes up with various designs inspired by his own food creations. That was when my thoughts about the boundaries and genres were overturned.

It must not be easy to run a studio and work as a designer at the same time.
You pointed out a very realistic issue. It takes at least 3 to 6 months to complete a product, so management of the company is jeopardized while I concentrate on my job as a designer. I need to distribute my time evenly to maintain balance. That was when I realized that the industrial structure of Korea is highly underdeveloped. We have not nurtured masters in modern terms because of the social prejudices and structural contradictions against technical experts. I have encountered so many problems associated with unnecessary trials and errors and the lack of communication when creating even a tiny product. I need a flawless ‘finish’ in order to come up with an artwork-quality product, but it is realistically very difficult.

How did you begin to collaborate with the traditional masters? What did you learn from that process?
I have collaborated with them since before I opened the studio. I have fabricated Koreanstyle furniture with wood craft masters and developed my own sense of aesthetics since I started working for Baeksun Design. I am establishing the identity of my studio based on the value I realized there, which was the originality of Korean design. It has two faces, of course. It is a big pleasure to discover the spirits of ancestors and the original techniques that existed for hundreds of years in our history. However, there is always a communication problem because we are accustomed to different ways of life. Although it is not very easy, I can say it is somewhat fun to solve these problems.

Could you explain the lighting on the cover?
What comes to your mind when you look at the center of this lighting fixture? It is definitely a ‘snowball’ that you can see around Christmas. I was inspired by that to combine a diagonal wooden support and lotus petals with the shade. The Korean paper on the lotus petals reflects light very whimsically when the light is turned on. But it was difficult to make the glass for the ball very thin and to decide the thick-ness and size of the golden powder. In order to spray the golden powder at the right time, I had to devote time and effort to create an embedded circuit substrate.

With active collaboration, it would be relatively easier for us to see the craft creations in everyday life.
Our goal is to capture the skills of traditional masters and their spirits in the products that we can use every day. For instance, the <Forest Display Unit>, which I built with Wood Craft Master Jinkyung Yoo, was designed based on the vision of moving the branches apart to bring out a precious teacup kept hidden in the woods for serving tea to a valued guest. It applied the traditional assembly technique, but the masculine and minimal design of the table goes well with any contemporary space.

I wonder where you get your ideas or inspiration for your artworks.
‘Artwork’ or ‘inspiration’ sounds too grandiose. I think ‘product’ is the right name for my pieces. The source of my imagination is nature. One of my lighting fixtures is called <Yumaek>. It is made of bamboo scorched to create the patterns of barley. This is only an example, but many of the products resemble natural things such as the moon and flowers.

Do you think that collaboration with traditional methods is right for embodying your imagination?
I certainly do, but what is more important is creating products that can only be made in Korea without copying foreign products.

What are your plans for the future?
I don’t have big plans. I just want to maintain a balance between product development and the studio management while creating a production system that minimizes trials and errors. Imagination is the key to the future.