Berlin-based design practice Yellow Nose Studio is the fusion of two incredibly talented minds, Tung Kai-Ming and Ho Hsin-Ying. From handcrafted ceramics to forays into furniture design, to say their work is bountiful is an understatement. However diverse their designs are, the duo’s creations have a distinguishable aesthetic that explains their appeal. Here, IGNANT looks inside their all-white studio in Berlin to learn how they create their impeccable designs while navigating their differing ideas, as well as their experience of living as expats and creatives in a city as culturally vibrant as Berlin.
“This space engulfs the evolution of our experience in the city,” the couple shares as we sip on some tea in their studio in the bustling neighborhood of Wedding. Partners in life and work, Ying and Kai first met studying architecture at Shih-Chien University in Taiwan. As young creatives with a drive to explore culture and design, it was inevitable for them to end up in the German capital. The city’s thriving creative scene and relaxed yet energetic atmosphere felt accommodating. Four years later, the city is home—its slow pace of life and tolerant mentality is what keeps them here. “We feel a sense of tranquillity, connection, and community here. The city is a perfect collage of unique cultures and individuals from all around the world, just like us,” they tell us. To this day, the city remains their source of inspiration and motivation in life and work. “Berlin can be tough, but it invites you to take risks; it gives you the energy to work and rethink things. It is just so imperfectly perfect,” Ying and Kai confide.
"We wanted to give a form and space to what we love doing, which is creating. It was a testing ground to see where our future in Berlin would take us”
Just over two years ago, the couple started what is now Yellow Nose Studio, right here in Berlin. “We wanted to give a form and space to what we love doing, which is creating. It was a testing ground to see where our future in Berlin would take us,” they share. Today, Yellow Nose Studio is a fully functional venture of different design expressions to represent slow living, through objects that savor the spaces we live and walk through. No creative profession is short of obstacles in Berlin, and the couple had its own challenges in defining themselves and conveying their story, fearing failure and unfulfillment. Their mutual dedication to their work, however, helped them in a daunting new city. “Soon, our conflicting feelings cancelled each other out. We stuck to our decisions to be designers and did so without losing our sense of self,” they say proudly. Throughout the years, the couple has grown to relish the difficulty and resilience of being creatives. “At that time we didn’t know that Yellow Nose Studio would open an endless trail of possibilities, allowing us to find our ground in the noise of this city as expats and creatives,” they say.
As we take a tour of the 46 square meter space, the couple tells us of the incredible amount of effort and dedication that went into Yellow Nose Studio. “The place was covered in dust and spider-webs; we made our own product shelves, built a mezzanine, and painted everything white,” they share, as they explain how they transformed a small, old factory unit with rusticbrick walls into their intimate retreat—both an office and a second home. Setting it up meant long hours of work and no sleep; two years later, this hasn’t changed. “Schedules and organization is something we are still working toward; but that to-do list isn’t going to tick itself off alone,” they laugh. Ying and Kai are self-described night-owls. “The real work doesn’t start until 3 in the afternoon. We like to take our mornings slow, do some paperwork and pack orders; small things to wake us up.” Work, however, doesn’t end when the studio door shuts behind them. “Sometimes at night, our minds look like hamster fun-lands, racing for hours with ideas and images. We just can’t help trick our brains into thinking we’re relaxed before we actually put our creative thoughts together,” they share.
Their studio space is telling of their practice. While the original industrial character is still there, a minimalist and clean aesthetic floods the room. Our gaze wanders through furniture pieces laying around and ceramics carefully displayed on shelves. How have two trained architects ended up making homewares? “Architecture remains the foundation of our design work. Space is always the first element we consider when approaching an idea. Objects are, in many ways, the very extension of space. The realization that we could create homewares came in doing; it wasn’t preconceived,” Ying and Kai tell us. Today the couple experiments primarily with new meanings and applications of product design—“a long way from our first project; a water installation that represented time and space,” they say. In the room, we spot their all-black debut collection, the all-white tea-set, and soft yellow pagoda box inspired wooden furniture from their ‘N-02’ collection. In the oven while we speak is ‘N-04’, a collection of objects created in collaboration with Taiwanese ceramic master Wang Jui Chu and Berlin-based design studio Kreadiano Objects, set to be released in March 2020.
With their gentle colors and nature-inspired textures, the works on display exude a distinctive aesthetic, one that matches their minimalist space with startling accuracy.“Ours is an ever-evolving quest for the perfect balance between the organic and inorganic, the logical and the emotional, the handcrafted and the industrial,” they tell us. All of their products are handmade, crafty and technical, yet they create feeling. A large part of their success lies in their unique ability to combine elegance with rawness, using solid, earth materials—such as clay, wood, and stone—in unforeseen ways. “Materiality is fundamental to us; we want to preserve the character of the materials, respect their qualities and functionalities, let the rough details speak for us,” the couple shares. Asked about their aesthetic choices, the duo is quick to point out that “simplicity might best describe our aesthetic. That, and a bit of unexpectedness, of creative adventurousness.”
If Kai is the one with the dreamy mind, constantly bringing ideas—some of them outlandish, others brilliant—to the table, Ying is the pragmatic one, putting together the fragments into one big picture
Although their similarities and academic background brought them together, we learn that it is their differing ideas and talents that make their designs so fascinating—In Berlin the couple has branched into different disciplines; Ying studies scenography and Kai product design. “Our work captures the imagination of two competing minds,” they tell us. If Kai is the one with the dreamy mind, constantly bringing ideas—some of them outlandish, others brilliant—to the table, Ying is the pragmatic one, putting together the fragments into one big picture. “Together, we are a perfect team. We always brainstorm before turning our ideas into practical realities; this creates a feedback loop and spurs us on to further creative concepts.” Developing a fully-fledged product involves a painstakingly supervised process: “It’s by crafting the object with our bare hands, testing the materials and adjusting the details, that our creations come together. The concept is only a small part of a much larger picture.”
Their collaborative commitment comes organically and shows in their work ethic. Passion and personal artistic satisfaction is what fuels their work—and is their enabler for success. “When you put your passion into everything you do; you take paths few would go down,” the couple shares. Asked if their creations are governed by opinion, they tell us that “what is important to us is that what we create has meaning to us. We wouldn’t put anything out there that isn’t perfect or 100 per cent us.” Nonetheless, the desire for appreciation is inevitable. “Hearing that that our objects mean something to someone else, is what gives us pleasure, what puts a smile on our faces,” they confess.
Outside of their studio, Ying and Kai have learnt to find peace within the buzz of the city and the chaos of the creative process through immersing in the city’s nature. “There is something about being surrounded by nature that instills a sense of peace and calmness in us” they share. Every morning, the couple can be found strolling with their two dogs through parks and trees—a regenerative ritual, by necessity and choice. The couple’s ultimate meditative practice, however, is cooking: “We are such foodies. There’s nothing more gratifying to us than cooking a good meal at home after work.” A genuine and intimate way to reset their minds; before yet another early morning creative idea hits them again.