Introducing: Yenwen Tseng

Taiwanese designer Yenwen Tseng graduated from Konstfack in Stockholm. He currently lives and works 'back home' in Taichung. Portrait Maja Flink

It is not always those who shout loudest who are heard. At least not in the case of Taiwanese designer Yenwen Tseng. Despite his somewhat subdued contribution to the 2014 Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair, it was there that design stalwarts Claesson Koivisto Rune (CKR) spotted Tseng's work for the first time. 'Young designers – for lots of reasons – try to really stand out from the crowd, and they sometimes overdo their designs,' says Mårten Claesson. 'They want their work to shout louder than everyone else’s. Yenwen did exactly the opposite.'

It was Tseng’s Trapezium stool that initially caught the individual eyes of Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto and Ola Rune. The stackable stool is a four-legged seat made of ash. The versatility of the design invites the user to determine the stool’s exact function. Tseng says that 'the angle of the seat creates multiple possibilities. I would like people who use it to get creative.' The Swedish designers were also impressed by Tseng's Quote clothes hook, a short length of beech rounded on one end, with a flat base for wall-mounting. The subtle design is suggestive of a quotation mark. Claesson admires the poetic language and abiding appeal of both designs: 'I see longevity in Tseng's work. His design language veers towards the timeless side of the spectrum.'

The simplicity of the designs is something that bears resonance with Claesson, as he jokingly refers to the minimalist pieces as 'almost Scandinavian', while admitting that it might be better 'to compare the language to that of his Japanese counterparts'. The Taiwanese creative would probably not take offence at Claesson’s 'almost Scandinavian' remark, however. It wasn’t by accident that Tseng ended up studying at Konstfack. 'I find Swedish design calm and peaceful. It has a character I like,' he says.

Although Yenwen did leave home to study design in Sweden, he has since moved back to Taichung. Having learned his trade in Stockholm, he felt there was a niche in Taiwan that he could fill. He joined several colleagues in Taichung, and together they set up a company, Nak Nak. Tseng’s position is design director. 'Taiwan has its strong points, namely production and resources, but in the past we basically supplied other brands,' he says. Nak Nak was officially launched at the 2015 Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair, a year after Tseng's first appearance at the event. The new brand combines the skills of selected designers with the craftsmanship of a local metalworking factory with 30 years' experience under the belt. Tseng's Corrugate – a two-shelved metal shoe rack – is one of Nak Nak's first products for sale. Dirt, sand and water from shoe soles fall into the furrows of the corrugated metal shelves, and magnetic connectors facilitate the disassembly of the rack when it needs to be cleaned.

Tseng's entrepreneurial spirit strikes a chord with Claesson, who set up CKR with classmates Koivisto and Rune in 1995, after they graduated from Konstfack. 'Nak Nak shows that Tseng is not a one-hit wonder,' he says. 'The brand is great for Taiwan, a country with a huge manufacturing industry – and one eager to develop the field of design.' Claesson believes that the emergence of an ‘austere designer’ like Tseng is healthy for Taiwan.

Portraits Maja Flink

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