Once upon a time ‘Made in China’ was a label synonymous with cheap, fast, throwaway mass manufacturing but, as ELLE Decoration reported in August 2019, in recent years a creative revolution has been underway. And one of the pioneers is Stellar Works founder Yuichiro Hori, who is giving ‘Made in Shanghai’ an upbeat and desirable spin. Having established the brand in 2012, with some heavy-hitting design collaborators such as OEO Studio, Yabu Pushelberg and David Rockwell along for the ride, Stellar Works’ sleek, chic furniture and lighting pieces – which marry ‘East and West, heritage and modernity, craft and industry’, Hori says – have been at the forefront of transforming the way we value Chinese design and artisanry.
Japanese-born Hori was a seasoned furniture business professional long before launching Stellar Works. ‘I first started with another factory, but it was always very hard to manage the quality,’ he says. ‘I wanted them to use the best materials – the right paint, the right glue – but they didn't want to buy them because they were expensive.’ The former property developer also spied a niche in the disparity between European and Asian production. ‘Europe has high design, high quality, high price but low volume, whereas China only thinks in terms of scale, without complicated handmade production, selling by the container to make the price very competitive,’ he says.
So Hori started his own factory in 2008 in Shanghai’s Jiading District, working in partnership with Laval – ‘one of the oldest factories in France’, says Hori, ‘with hundreds of years of history, producing very high-end furniture for the likes of Hermès.’ His aim was to bring together efficient Japanese management and French savoir-faire with Chinese artisanry, with everything produced on the one site, from design and R&D to cutting, sanding, painting and upholstery. ‘The young workers here have amazing skills,’ he enthuses. ‘They might only be around 25 or 30, but they already have more than 10 years’ experience in wood or metal work because they grow up learning these skills from their fathers.’ The factory now numbers over 400 workers.
This confluence of skills and know-how has resulted in a ‘timeless and handcrafted’ aesthetic, with the brand working with industrial-style materials such as grainy timbers of ash and walnut, steel, brass, leather and natural upholsteries of wool, linen and cotton. By collaborating with leading and rising design talents the collection today includes handsome woven-topped bar stools and sensuous ‘Lunar’ sofas by Space Copenhagen (their ‘Haro’ lamp pictured top), a streamlined dining table (complete with detachable lazy Susan) by rising Australian designer Tom Fereday, to the best-selling stackable ‘Industry’ chair and a glass-fronted ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ shelving unit on wheels by the brand’s Shanghai-based creative directors Neri&Hu. Architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu have been integral to Stellar Works’ success, steering the collections and elevating its presence at global design events. The brand occupies a ground-floor showroom space in the architect studio’s new headquarters in downtown Shanghai.
Today Stellar Works has travelled far, its furniture can be spied across the globe in stylish destination hotels and restaurants in New York, London, Sydney, Paris and Shanghai. Its popularity in hospitality is no doubt partly down to the innovative engineering at the heart of the brand: finding flat-pack solutions, for example, to keep shipping costs down or space-saving furniture such as adjustable tables that double as desks, or bedheads incorporating essential tech – all ideal for hotel rooms such as the new Moxy chain in Manhattan.
Perhaps the appeal of Stellar Works’ aesthetic also owes much to the distinct mid-century modern feel to many of the pieces –from Space Copenhagen’s ‘Slow’ collection to Shuwa Tei’s ‘New Legacy’ chairs, finished in unusual sapele mahogany. Indeed, Hori’s own passion for collecting vintage furniture has also evolved into a collection of reissues by Danish architect Vilhelm Wohlert and Danish-American architect Jens Risom. These include one of Hori’s favourite designs, the 1955 ‘Piano’ chair designed by Wohlert for the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen– ‘they designed pieces to be used for generations’, he enthuses.
Looking ahead, new items being launched this year will include the ‘Ori’ chair by Hallgeir Homstvedt Design, Sebastian Herkner’s HOST movable wardrobe developed for compact spaces, and three archetypically minimal designs by Japanese studio Nendo: the ‘Blend’ stool (its base appears to defy gravity, pictured top image), the flexible ‘Frame’ shelf system (where a towel rail can be transformed into a shelf, accessorised with or without a mirror) and ‘Kite’ lounge chairs.Plus, long-time collaborators OEO Studio (‘Seiton’ shelving by OEO pictured top) and Neri&Hu have created ‘Mun’ lighting and the ‘Stack’ chair, respectively. ‘For Stellar Works, our design is very much minimal,’ says Hori, ‘but, I hope, as iconic and long-lasting as pieces by those mid-century greats.’ So far, so stellar. stellarworks.com
This article appeared in ELLE Decoration May issue
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