Design duo Sharon and Chris talk to us about using honest materials, traditional craft and the beauty of their new collection
Taiwan-born Sharon Jo-Yun Hung and British-Japanese Chris Yoshiro Green first met at the Chelsea College of Art before continuing with product design at Central Saint Martins. They opened their store, which showcases their specialised, pared-back designs for stylish homes, in Notting Hill in 2014
Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
Chris: I was brought up in a family of architects and civil engineers, so I was never dissuaded from a creative career. I was always a curious child and jumped through phases of interest in cars, planes, and castles.
Sharon: I have been interested in the business of design since a child. My parents are entrepreneurs, so I was inspired to follow in their footsteps. I remember being interested in how well design can drive a business forward, and how it can add value too.
What’s the story behind the name Native & Co?
It came about quite early on when the store was just an idea. The word ‘native’ was in our minds because of the Taiwanese Aboriginal project. We design and curate homeware from Japan and Taiwan and specialise in traditional crafts and contemporary designed tableware, working closely with specialist makers and craftsmen. We like simple, almost primal forms where the material is used in an honest and pure-like fashion. It’s very important for us to celebrate the natural form of objects. Equally, the origin of objects is essential to us; we want to trace their story to aparticular location. A region of Japan famous for knives for instance, or an old canvas workshop in Taiwan for their school bags.
What do you hope your products bring to other people’s homes?
Although our designs are discreet in nature we don’t believe in a pure minimalist home or try and promote it, we believe homes should be a mix and balance of various sources. The art and talent are in the mixing. We want the store to be a relaxing but also informative experience, where you leave not only taking beautiful pieces home but with also the knowledge of how it was made and why that matters to you. We want our pieces to complement an interior but not to dominate it.
How would you describe the aesthetic of Japanese and Taiwanese design?
Japanese aesthetics are a unique form of minimalism. In comparison to the industrial and clinical aesthetic of German design and Scandinavian simplicity, with its dark timbers and flowing lines, the Japanese aesthetic seems to bridge these two well. It combines the cleanliness of form, with the warmth of natural materials. I believe this is a very suitable aesthetic for a home interior as it’s an ideal balance of purity without looking out of place next to a cosy cushion. Taiwanese aesthetics, for historical and cultural reasons, are quite influenced by Japan, and this is reflected in the sharing of similar values but it takes a different approach. Taiwanese products tend to have more character and vigour about them whereas Japanese aesthetics strive to be anonymous.
How does your first collection compare to the new Mu series?
Unlike our first furniture collection called Inako, the Mu series was more challenging. We decided from the outset that we wanted to fabricate the entire collection ourselves, from log to final serving board. We had to learn a whole new industry about sawing timber and kiln drying it. We sourced a particular cedar for not only its aesthetical properties but for its great strength, resistance to water, and common use in temple building in Japan.
Can you talk us through your latest collection of Mu tableware and the ideas behind it?
Mu comes from the Taiwanese word for wood. It was developed from the need to create a serving board which wasn’t too delicate to chop on and a cutting board that could be presented at the table. It’s a collection of cedar wood serving boards designed for preparing and presenting food at the table. Ideal as a cutting board or a tea tray, each design is double sided, for both serving and chopping.
Are there any other materials that you’d like to work with?
We like natural materials and have spent our last two series using hardwoods and softwoods. Now we’re looking into ceramics. One of the unique characteristics is the value imbued in the firing clay. The heritage, ancestry and localisation of a particular clay can speak of the craft in itself. Ceramics across Japan and Taiwan are very regional and we’re looking forward to working with a traditional and renowned clay as the base of our next studio series.
If you could choose, what would you say is your favourite design piece of all time?
Choosing just the one is very hard, but an old favourite of ours is Sori Yanagi’s stainless steel tongs. In our opinion, Yanagi was a master of Japanese minimalism, an incredible designer capable of balancing clean and organic lines. The tongs are a utilitarian piece, made of an industrial stainless steel; yet his design of the form gives the item is such warmth and life.
You can visit their website here.
Portrait photo by Alicia Pollett
Article by: Emma Foale