Minimalissimo Meets Afteroom
Afteroom is a Stockholm-based design studio and an advocate of the traces of time with a philosophy based on simplicity and honesty. The studio is founded and directed by Hung-Ming Chen and Chen-Yen Wei, two designers originally from Taiwan. Jana Ahrens of Minimalissimo speaks to Afteroom to learn about their working process, their home life and how their subtle design influences.
The best surprise we can get from our work is the moment we find a new way to add something nice to an old object.
Timeless value is clearly an integral aspect to your creative philosophy. What connects time and design to result in a sustainably valuable product?
When time flies, what remains is memories, which are irreplaceable values attached to objects. A great design should be something that could constantly arouse your desire to keep it in your life, something that is really hard to get tired to look at. For us, a well proportion sculpture that fulfils its own purpose is always a good starting point.
You moved to Sweden in 2006 from Taiwan to gain a master’s degree in design. After all these years, are there still Taiwanese influences present in your products? If so, how intentional is this?
The influences are hard to see in our design, their existence is more subtle—like a kind of mindset. Before we moved to Sweden, I worked as an industrial designer in a Taiwan consumer-electronics firm for around three years and I was trained to be really aware of production costs and the manufacturing process while designing. On the other hand, Chen-Yen worked as an assistant designer under a young girl fashion brand, her potential of colour combination and aesthetic judgment were mostly stimulated by that period of work. Both of us still appreciate the mindset we gained from our previous work experiences in Taiwan, which helps us a lot while we work with our clients nowadays.
How does your chosen relocation from one side of the world to another shape your perspective on design problems?
Relocation actually does very little on shaping our perspective. For us, the position and industry changing play the major role in how we solve design problems. When we were in Taiwan, we usually didn’t have much time for a single project, because the OEM/ODM competitive condition in Asia is just too intense, and most of the time we needed to cost down the production to survive. Now we have our own design studio in Sweden, primarily focusing on designing furniture, so we are considering more about identity, proportion, and simplicity when facing design problems.
Much of your work is produced by MENU—a brand that works with some of the world’s most exciting and creative individuals. Can you tell us a bit more about your relationship with them?
We met each other first time at Stockholm furniture fair 2013, and by that time MENU was just starting to rebrand and renew their whole collection of furniture and homewares, so we were really lucky to work with them at the right moment. Since then, we constantly exchange ideas and work very closely, and there are still many ongoing projects that we’re working with MENU on.
The Afteroom Dining Chair has become an iconic piece of furniture, which pays homage to Bauhaus. It is also a design that has evolved over recent years. Why do you think this chair has been so successful?
It’s thanks to the good proportion and the practicality, and of course the marketing team from MENU also plays an important role.
Is there a difference between Taiwan and Sweden when it comes to the process of sourcing materials?
Scandinavian style has been really popular in Taiwan for many years so maybe not so different now.
What is it about the Scandinavian aesthetic that is so prevalent in your design language? Is it strictly down to the (client) design brief or simply the result of your design philosophy?
It happens in both possibilities. We work with clients we like, and if a company likes our works they’ll also contact us.
As your work shapes the feeling of home for many other people: What is home to you yourself?
We’re actually looking for a new place at this moment as now our home is too small for three people and a cat. An ideal home for us should be combined with working and living, since the boundary between these two is actually blurry for us, and we enjoy working at home very much.
How have you created your interior at home?
Our home was like an IKEA catalogue during the first few years we arrived in Sweden as students. After we had started our own studio, it’s been slowly renewed and replaced by our own furniture. Sometimes we’d buy nice antique furniture and combine our designs with some design classics we love.
How much of your time today is spent designing and how much is spent on project management, client relations, and business operations?
Chen-Yen is our manager and also the design director, so she works 50% on business operations and 50% design direction. I work more on idea realisation and prototyping which are around 70%, and also 30% on searching new workable ideas.
What do you each bring to the creative process?
We usually discuss a concept or an idea together if both of us agree on a direction, then I will create sketches and make prototypes for Chen-Yen to approve or adjust. We trust each other with the aesthetic judgment or design decisions that are made by either of us.
Despite your love for timeless design, you probably enjoy surprising yourself with your work. Where do you find the freedom to do so?
The best surprise we can get from our work is the moment we find a new way to add something nice to an old object. Usually, we can find this excitement from an antique with great potential.
What does professional growth mean to you?
It means working with people who are really passionate about what they do—we can always get inspired and learn things from them.
In previous interviews you mentioned the importance of your daughter not only in your family life but also as an influence on the foundation of your design ethos. Does this influence change with her growing up?
No, it has never changed. The difference right now is as she’s been growing up, she seems to know more about what her parents are doing. She understands why papa always constantly draws chairs on her papers unconsciously, and she would forgive him if he did it again.
Looking ahead, what will life be like for you both personally and professionally?
Personally, we don’t feel young anymore but we hope to be forever mentally young. Professionally, we are really grateful every day that we have great support from our clients to continue creating beautiful things.