Ming-era furniture is believed to represent the apex of Chinese furniture design. Its elegant simplicity enabled by sophisticated joinery and exquisite craftsmanship has also influenced western designers for centuries. One of the most famous examples is the series of chairs designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1940s, including ‘The China Chair’, ‘The Chair’ and the ‘Wishbone Chair’.
It is delightful to see a new generation of Chinese designers experimenting and innovating with the age-old Ming styles. The ‘Neo-Ming' style, characterised by extraordinary creativity, refreshing originality and impeccable Ming-standard craftsmanship, is emerging in contemporary Chinese furniture design.
Here is our selection of the best Neo-Ming designs.
Shiershiman, meaning ‘12 hours slow life’ in Chinese, aims to convey timeless elegance. Combining Ming-style with modern aesthetics, the Mulan Chair presents the team’s passion to promote a modern Chinese lifestyle.
Mulan Chair is also a good example of work born from the marriage of traditional and modern technology. The design process adopted human engineering and computer calculations. As a result, no single surface plane is flat and no single line is purely straight. The chair also projects different shapes when viewed from different angles.
Another classic piece from the young brand, the Clothes Rack, takes the simplest possible form to give users the true function of a clothing rack. The beautiful lines of this design resemble the brushstrokes from a classic Chinese painting.
As a renowned graphic designer that has won numerous important awards, Hong Wei’s furniture design has a strong graphic appeal in its abstract forms. Digging deep into Chinese history and cultural elements, Hong’s furniture extracts the essence of the classic Ming-style and transforms it into new Chinese forms.
The Pin (品) Chair has a square frame, providing a comfortable sitting experience with the curved surface. It removes all the decorative elements of traditional Chinese furniture while keeping the craftsmanship of sun mao (mortise and tenon) joinery techniques. It is a wonderful mix of old craft and new style. The Jian (Between) Chair tries to depict the concept of the in-between heaven and earth. The minimal shape comes from the ancient belief of Yin and Yang theory of ‘sky is round and earth is square’.
Graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2010, Xiao Tianyu is currently an independent designer. Xiao is committed to finding better ways to combine local culture and self-characteristics, and discovering various possibilities through learning traditional arts and crafts. His works offer the user thoughtful elegant simplicity.
Inheritance does not mean imitation, but can inspire the transcendence of previous limits. Ming chairs emphasised sitting straight and looking serious, while modern Western upholstered seat furniture lets people lay back and relax. Xiao perfectly combines the two different concepts for sitting to promote a cozy and harmonious lifestyle with a Chinese twist.
Industrial designer Min Chen was born into an artistic family in Hangzhou, China. He began his training in Chinese calligraphy at a very young age and has maintained an interest in traditional Chinese arts and crafts to this day.
As the most classic of Chinese furniture, the Ming style carries a special gene of oriental simplicity. Min’s Chair explores a series of Ming furniture in a modern technological and social context in China, to bring back the essence of Ming furniture to people's life in a more contemporary and innovative yet practical and ecological way.
In 2011, the original furniture brand PUSU was founded in Shanghai. As the saying from Chuang-tzu goes: “nothing in the world is more beautiful than simplicity”, which indicates both the origin of the brand name and the nature of its furniture. PUSU uses furniture as a medium to interpret the elegant aesthetics of life and contemporary furnishing art.
Inspired by the classic shape of the traditional Ming-era circle armchair, the Tiandi series refines and reshapes the ancient design and is suitable for modern living space.
Founded by Hou Zheng-Guang in 2009, MoreLess is involved in the design of furniture, lighting and accessories. Their products seek to express culture and personality within a balance of functional and beautiful form. They believe that natural materials, simple design and exquisite crafts magnify the beauty of the details.
Designed by LIU Yitong, the Monk Bench Bookshelf creatively stacks the traditional benches of the Ming dynasty into an elegant new form.
Following the philosophy of moderation and harmony, U+ is dedicated to the original design and production of contemporary furniture. Inspired by Chinese traditional culture, its designs show respect for nature, humanity and aesthetics while presenting the beauty of moderation and peace.
Wisdom table, Yuè Literati
As a distinctive furniture brand that represents the extraordinary Chinese literati culture, Yuè Literati promotes the eastern living style of refinement and moderation. With its leading furniture series “Yi (Simpleness)” and “Le (Happiness)” that have been developed over the last two years, Yuè Literati has become a popular eastern-style brand in the Chinese furniture market.
Founded by Kevin Chen in 2011, the craft-led furniture brand DEGOO follows the philosophy of Ming furniture, which is exemplified by gracefully simple forms. Paradoxically, this simplicity, expressed through elegant lines and unadorned beauty, is actually very hard to achieve because it relies on superlative craftsmanship and an exacting approach to detailing. DEGOO’s aim is to create furniture that looks to the best of the past and revitalises it for today’s contemporary lifestyles.
*Contemporary Chinese Furniture Design: A New Wave of Creativity by Charlotte and Peter Fiell with Zheng Qu will be published by Laurence King in October 2019, featuring over 400 exemplary works representative of the new wave of creativity in modern Chinese furniture design.