Kwangho Lee collaborates with the Swedish brand Hem

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Kwangho Lee became a furniture designer by chance. Originally trained in metal art and design at Hongik University in Seoul, he created a few pieces of furniture for his 2007 graduation exhibition, which caught the attention of several design galleries, including the Montreal Commissioners and the Johnson Trading Gallery in New York. Over the past 15 years, the Korean designer’s work has expanded to include furniture, fixtures and interiors, and he is now launching his first collection outside of the collectible design circuit, in collaboration with furniture brand Swedish Hem.

Kwangho Lee photographed in his studio in Hanam, on the outskirts of Seoul in July 2022 with his enameled copper pieces for Salon 94

The result of manufacturing experiments with wood, stone, straw, sculpted polystyrene, knotted nylon cord, and enameled copper, Lee’s heavily process-based work conveys an enthusiasm for the materials and the craft that has deep roots in his childhood.

“My grandparents were a big influence. They were farmers and that naturally had an effect on the way I thought and created with my hands,” he explains. parents using natural materials to make tools and objects sparked an interest in making things with their hands. Lee was carving wood to make slingshots and playing with handmade water wheels near a stream. “The joy of doing is at the heart of the explanation of my work,” he says.

His creations are a natural progression of his education. Working from two studios (a smaller studio in Seoul’s Seongsudong district, as well as a larger workshop near Hanam), Lee knots, cuts, bakes and welds materials to create exquisite furniture that wears traces of its manufacturing process.

The chilbo kiln, used to fire colored glass over copper or brass

Among his best-known works are pieces featuring enameled copper surfaces, which he began making in 2013 using a traditional Korean technique called chilbo that he replicates in a large kiln in his workshop in Hanam. It involves crushing colored glass which is then fired on sheets of copper or brass, with unexpected, often raw results. The technique is normally applied to jewelry or small objects, but Lee applies it to larger areas on roughly welded copper furniture, or inlaid panels of delicately worked cherry wood, to create chairs, cabinets, tables and lights.

Knotted nylon thread has been a recurring material in the designer’s work since his debut. He first encountered it in 2007 when working on lighting design – or more specifically, when he created oversized knotted compositions of bright blue and red threads, woven around large light bulbs and partially suspended. on the ceiling. “At the time, I thought the three most important aspects of lighting production were electricity, wire and bulbs,” he explains. “To create a lighting element using only these elements, I started knotting and knitting the thread itself. After two or three years of making lighting fixtures using yarn, I gained the confidence to weave something together to make furniture, and PVC tubing was the material I chose. .

Armchair from the ‘Obsession’ series

Experimenting again with the material possibilities of weaving (he tried it in both nylon and leather), he created furniture with more rigid and contained shapes than the technique usually allowed. “To construct a woven furniture form using only this process, and without a given frame, it had to become simple, otherwise it cannot sustain itself and falls apart,” he says of the simple forms in the collection, which translate into chairs, sofas and tables. . “As I continued to make these pieces, I came to develop a preference for certain geometric shapes and proportions, and this preference carried over to my chilbo works, causing them to adopt a similar shape and proportions.”

The knotted works are part of an ongoing series titled ‘Obsession’, begun in 2008, which embodies a reflection of his thoughts on craftsmanship at the time. ‘It was my question of where I could take this weaving, how long I could continue this way of working. This question continues today. I started weaving in 2006 for my graduation show and I still have so many materials and shapes that I haven’t worked on yet.

‘Hunk’ lounge chair, from €2,299, for Hem, alongside 3D printed pieces, from a series started in 2019 referencing Lee’s knotted works

The ‘Obsession’ series caught the eye of Petrus Palmér, founder of Hem: ‘I found Kwangho’s woven rope fascinating for its obsessive nature, pop culture references and bright colors,’ he says. He commissioned Lee to create new pieces for the brand, and the resulting collection marks the first time the designer’s visual language has been translated for large-scale production and accessible to a wider audience.

For Hem, Lee created a lounge chair whose design derives from one of the ‘Obsession’ pieces: angular and bulky, the ‘Hunk’ chair is defined by four blocks in an archetypal armchair shape, a natural progression of knotted patterns simple ones that inspired the piece. Available with or without armrests, the chair is accompanied by a series of bent and bent metal tables developed from ‘New Armor’, a 2013 lacquered bronze furniture collection inspired by the body armor used in the Dynasty Joseon in Korea (1392-1910).

Detail of the ‘Glyph’ side table, from €467, for Hem

“The starting point is a shape dedicated to protecting the human body,” says Lee. “The curves and straight lines of the shoulders, torso and back have been rearranged into a new form, a new armor.” “Glyph” tables for Hem simplify the language of the original works, “transforming shapes into hieroglyphs, each table with its own unique silhouette as if creating a new word”.

Lee perfectly embodies the spirit of Hem, joining a roster of creatives who blur the lines between limited edition and industrial design, such as Max Lamb, Sabine Marcelis, Formafantasma and Faye Toogood.

Copper enamel pieces in Lee’s Hanam workshop

“We like to think that we move quite freely between the two disciplines,” says Palmér, explaining that the brand’s pieces often come from one-off productions or experiments. The company’s motto, “Imaginative Designs of Obsessive Quality”, reflects Hem’s mission to be what Palmér calls “the defining design brand of our generation”.

“The main effort has been to translate the artisanal quality of my work into larger scale production,” says Lee. “And I think that’s been a unique challenge for me, trying to find this new way of working. This whole process has been just trying new methods and seeing where each iteration takes us. I’m very excited to see how it’s happening and where the collaborations are taking us.

‘Tide’ tiles for Tajimi Custom Tiles on lacquered bronze furniture from the ‘New Armor’ series

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