In Pursuit of Slow Living with Yellow Nose Studio
Photography by Bennie Julian Gay
Yellow Nose is a Berlin-based Studio led by Hsin-Ying Ho and Kai-Ming Tung.
We sat down and chatted with the Taiwanese-duo about their studio beginnings. From their nomenclature to the presentation of their collections, their practice is rooted in an emotional artistry, in pursuit of a universal ‘slow living’.
MW: It’s a weird way to start this off, but I remember Alex and Mackenzie were both planning on going to Berlin before everything shut down, and were trying to link up with you guys and see your space. So much for that happening..
YN: Such a bummer. Next time!
MW: Truly. I’m curious to know what the significance behind Yellow Nose is. What’s it mean?
YN: So me and Kai both studied architecture when we were in Taiwan. After studying architecture, we came to Berlin to pursue our Master’s. Kai ended up studying Product Design and I pursued Scenography. We always had this vision that Yellow Nose Studio could go in two different directions: projects revolving around space, and projects revolving around objects. So we chose Yellow as a color that represents light, because we believe it’s the most important element in regards to a space, and nose as a nod to our senses, because we believe as designers we need the ability to sense things out. It also dictated our naming culture to come. Any projects that revolved around objects would be named: N 01, N 02, and so on. Projects that dealt with spaces would be referred to as: Y 01, Y 02.
MW: Dang, that’s smart. We recently dug up the list of names we were considering when starting Mouthwash. We’re really glad we landed on it, some of the other options would not have aged well at all.
YN: We love Mouthwash as a name so much. We think it’s really good.
MW: I’m glad. The whole idea was trying to give new meaning to this thing that we all have but nobody thinks about. A fresh perspective. Can you guys remember any of the alternative names to your studio practice that you came up with?
YN: Honestly Yellow Nose was the first name we landed on. This was the first thing we started together, and weren’t really sure how long it would last or how far it would go, so we tried not to overthink it. But we couldn’t help but wonder: Is this name cheesy? Are people going to see we’re Asian and say: “Ah, that makes sense.”
MW: I remember being insecure about our name for about the first year. I’d tell people what we did and when they asked what our studio was called I’d tense up for a second. “I hope they think this is cool” is something that always went through my head. Now I couldn’t care less honestly.
YN: Us too!
MW: How do you describe what you guys do at Yellow Nose, and what you’re making?
YN: It’s always a tough question to answer. At the root of what we do, we’re trying to make something that lasts a lifetime. Whether that’s an object or an entire space, we’re trying to show people what we understand slow living to be. That’s why handmade products and limited editions are so vital to what we do. We try and avoid mass production at all costs. We want to keep what we make very personal. And for us, that process is just as important as the object itself. And we think people can really feel that sentiment when they receive something from us.
MW: We’ve talked in the past about how we’re in the middle of this convenience economy. Amazon makes everything incredibly accessible, and people are kind of tired of it. In actuality, they want things they can talk about. They want to talk about how they got this custom chair from Yellow Nose Studio, or a custom website from MOUTHWASH Studio. All these things in our lives are points of conversation.
YN: We hope that people continue to place value in things that aren’t so easy to obtain. But at the same time, we find it hard to communicate that to our audience at points. Trying to help them understand that some products really take time and care to craft, and why something like that should be valued. We think people still need some time to really understand what we’re trying to do.
MW: Can you elaborate on this idea of slow living for us? You mentioned it a little while ago. What does that mean for you and why’s it so important in your practice?
YN: As we mentioned, mass production has dominated our lives for a few generations now. And the effects of that weren’t always so clear, but I think this pandemic has really been a good catalyst of bringing attention to this idea of slow living. Taking time to reflect, to take care of yourself, to appreciate the things around you. It’s not taking things for granted. Understanding that the imperfections in the ceramics you're using were formed by real hands.
MW: So when you guys are starting to make a new object, or design a new chair, what does that look like? Does it start with a design already in mind? Or do you look at a problem that needs to be solved?
YN: We almost never approach our designs with a problem in mind. When we started the studio, we were mainly working in ceramics, since that’s what the two of us were familiar with. We were getting ready to present at Paris Design Week, and didn’t want to build a bunch of shelves and displays that would end up getting thrown away after the five day event. So ultimately we decided we’d make furniture that would go with the tableware and serve as the presentation of it at the same time. That’s really how we started. Now we work in terms of collections. Collection 02 for example is all about tea ceremony. Kai is normally the one who has a ton of ideas. He’ll sketch out a lot of examples, and I’ll come to pick several of them that I believe work together. Those selections end up becoming the backbone of the collection.
MW: And you guys have been a studio for almost three years now, right? How are things going? What are some of the biggest hurdles you guys are facing right now?
YN: We’re always trying to figure out how we can be more financially stable. We love what we make but we’re still exploring how we can ultimately have better returns from our products.
MW: Sometimes the work is deceiving. People might look at what you all are making and think: “These people must be making all kinds of money.” And you pull up the curtain and it’s just two normal people trying to make it happen back there.
YN: Exactly. It’s a funny point of view. We’re just trying to keep the lights on.
MW: Do you hope to keep doing what you’re doing, and eventually it reaches more people? Or do you have a bigger vision of what Yellow Nose Studio might be?
YN: Right now we just want to focus on taking on bigger projects. We don’t want to feel like we need to keep producing new work and objects 24/7. We really want to make a shift and ultimately combine our work in spaces and objects into a more uniform practice. Right now they sort of feel like they’re on different trajectories.
MW: Are you familiar with our friend Shin Okuda? His studio practice is Waka Waka.
YN: Yes! You guys just did his website, right?
MW: We did. The reason I bring him up is because he’s been doing it for a while now. He just passed 10 years of his studio practice not too long ago. But each year it’s been cool to see him take on bigger and bigger projects. Starting with his traditional rounded-back chair, to furnishing entire offices for large creative companies here in Los Angeles. You guys are still relatively new, but I just know that if you continue to make the level of work you’re making, and manage to keep your head above the water, your practice will only grow.
YN: Thank you! We needed to hear that.
MW: I want to take a little bit of time and switch it up. How many collections have you guys made so far?
YN: We’ve made four, and our fifth is currently in the making.
MW: How did you guys begin building collections thematically? And what’s it look like deciding on a new theme?
YN: The importance of thematic collections comes from our education. We always studied architecture and design in terms of trends. We were taught that adding a story behind your work allows people to have something to grasp. It gives clarity and understanding and shows that thought was put into the product. For each collection, we always involve a model in our campaign shoot as well. The narrative is still abstract, but adding a model introduces this human element into the mix that we really value.
MW: How do those narratives come to fruition? Is it set in place before you design any of the objects? Or does it come after everything has been made?
YN: We normally have a rough idea of what the narrative will be before we start. But most of the narrative development happens while things are being made. We have a little more to work with once the designs have been put into motion. And obviously the narrative changes as things move forward, but it gives us something to go off of. Once we have all our reference sketches and everything packaged and ready to go, we’ll work with our photographer, Bennie, and he’ll help us realize what the campaign looks like. What model do we use, what are they doing, for example.
MW: His photography is so good. It blows our mind. Out of the five collections you guys have done, can you pick a favorite? Is that a terrible thing for me to ask you?
YN: Oh, it’s so terrible. Each collection is like a child for us.
MW: Maybe it’s just because it was my introduction to your guys’ work, but Collection Two is my favorite. I dream of that yellow chair with the wide arms. I think about it all the time.
YN: I think most people probably like Collection Two as well. They have such an interesting and fun character to them. When the pieces come together they look like a family, but they can all individually shine as well.
MW: One of the last things I want to land on before we leave is: You guys are from Taiwan, but live in Berlin. How are you pulling from the cultures that presently surround you and where does that show up in your work?
YN: It’s a good question. We’re in a unique position that we get to pull from both Eastern and Western design styles. It makes our work a bit special, especially compared to our colleagues' work here in Europe. But that duality is important to us. Germany has a lot of design history from movements such as Bauhaus, and figures like Dieter Rams. There’s a lot to be inspired by.
MW: Are there any movements or artists that have stood out and served as a constant inspiration for you two?
YN: An architect who has really inspired us for a while is Peter Zumthor. He worked on a chapel that we’re obsessed with. The facade is incredibly minimal, but the inside is this intricate structure of burnt wood. It’s fascinating. It’s at the intersection of rational and emotional, which is right where we want to be. It’s what informs our work. You can see that our collections are influenced by Western design through this minimal and clean approach, but at the same time each piece is emotionally driven and has a spirit to it, which hails from our Asian approach to design. But what really ties our work together are the imperfections. Hopefully people walk away with our objects and can see that our hands have been all over it.