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Samuel Chan: Master of his Craft

The Hong Kong-born designer launches a retrospective book chronicling his life and work on 1 December 2016. Sylvia Chan finds about more about the man behind the designs.

Samuel Chan: Master of his Craft


December 14th, 2016

Samuel Chan, the 2015 British Furniture Designer of the Year, launched his new book Samuel Chan: Design Purity + Crafting Principles on 1 December 2016 at the InnoCentre in Hong Kong.

Born here in Hong Kong, Chan is currently based in the UK and specialises in crafting wooden furniture inspired by aesthetics of both the East and the West.

Authored by design historians Charlotte and Peter Fiell, who have known Chan for over 25 years, the book reviews Chan’s career since the 1980s. The book celebrates the sophisticated craftsmanship that characterises Chan’s works, highlighting pieces that have won the designer 15 Guild Marks from the UK’s Furniture Makers Guild over the years. As the introduction of the book says, Chan’s furniture “encapsulates the same craft ideals and innate simplicity found in Shaker furniture or Arts and Crafts Movement designs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

A key piece introduced in the book is the Curve Chair, which Chan designed while he was still an undergraduate student at Middlesex University London in 1987. The moulded, beech-veneer piece was inspired by the Chinese character for ‘girl.’ Comprised of four pieces of curved plywood slotted together with hidden grooves, the piece exhibits Chan’s sensitivity to materiality, form, structure and detail.

Also highlighted in the book is one of Chan’s most recent works, the column bookcases he designed in 2015. The bookcases, made of stained walnut, explore woodcraft’s potentials. While serving as storage spaces, the bookcases are also art pieces that offer a strong visual rhythm. The rising blocks create a staccato effect that is fluid and harmonious – something Chan’s new book points out.

Chan’s book also introduces hotel projects on which Chan and his studio, Channels, has worked as consultant designer. One such project was furniture design for the Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel, Shanghai, in 2011. Renowned Japanese architect Arata Isozaki designed the hotel as a landmark in the city, while Chan and Channels custom-created and made furniture for the hotel’s lobby, public areas, restaurants and guest rooms. The contemporary design subtly incorporates elements from the East, making references to traditional Chinese architecture, furniture, and art. The furniture adds to the architectural and interior design of the hotel and evokes memories of China, giving the hotel a sense of place.

Apart from showcasing Chan’s works, the book also discusses the designer’s early experiences in Hong Kong. Born into a family that fled Communist China for Hong Kong, Chan had a far-from-privileged childhood. It is his experiences as a child that shaped his strong work ethic, sense of moral fortitude and resourcefulness; in turn, these qualities are reflected in his works, all of which are marked by a sophisticated simplicity.

The book launch event saw leading design names speak about their appreciation for Chan’s work, including Greg Farrell, Aedas’ Executive Director – Hong Kong, and Professor Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, in the UK.

Chan also shared his design philosophy on the night. “It doesn’t matter who the client is. You just do your job,” he said. “I try my best to do what I can to give the client the best product.”

An exhibition of Chan’s award-winning works was also on show at the InnoCentre from 1 to 3 December.

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