The Dwell 24: Nina Cho

The Dwell 24: Nina Cho

By Dwell
Detroit-based designer Nina Cho is inspired by her childhood in Seoul, South Korea, and the traditional Korean aesthetic of emptiness.

Born in San Francisco and raised in South Korea, Nina Cho often mines her family’s heritage for inspiration. "My work is influenced by Korean philosophy but doesn’t directly use Eastern aesthetics," says Cho, who is now based in Detroit after graduating from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2015. 

Detroit–based designer Nina Cho with her Cantilever Coffee Table

Take her interest in negative space, which has generated designs like her Cantilever table, a piece with a surprising ability to stay upright in the absence of supporting legs. "In Korea, we call it the study of emptiness," says Cho, noting how some Korean painters leave parts of canvases untouched.

The new Maung Maung collection of mirrors by Nina Cho

Her Maung Maung mirrors, named after a term for an obscured sense of depth, play with intersecting shapes and colors to evoke distant views. "When you look in the mirror, there’s a blurring of space and time," she says.

Learn how Cho's first memory of design is connected to the Playmobil dollhouse, and read more of her responses to our Q&A below.

Hometown: Seoul, South Korea 

Describe what you make in 140 characters. I merge Eastern philosophy with experimental forms to suggest new ways of functionality and to invite inventive and personal interactions. 

What's the last thing you designed? Maung Maung Mirrors for my solo show with the Colony last year. 

Do you have a daily creative ritual? Cooking. It requires me to be organized and creative. I like trying new recipes, especially making fusion foods from diverse cultures I have experienced.

An installation by Nina Cho

 How do you procrastinate? I do so by prioritizing the tasks by their importance and value. 

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? I’m not sure if it's a redesign because I think it may not exist. I’d like to design a tray or holder only for the sponges used in the sink. I hand wash dirty dishes, and I haven’t found a perfect holder to keep my sponges sanitary. I have designed a soap container before for the same reason. 

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? My parents. After growing up, I understand and appreciate my parents more. I could not be where I am without them. What skill would you most like to learn?Business, as it is probably the skill I need to learn more about. 

What is your most treasured possession? Art and design works that I have traded with my talented friends.

What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? A Playmobil dollhouse. When I was a child, my father brought me this toy as a gift on the way back from his business trip in Europe. It was the Victorian Playmobil Mansion 5321 Bedroom. I wasn’t so interested in the figures; the details in the miniature objects were what really drew me into it. I was able to experience a new type of interior space that was far different from any style of furnishing in my family’s South Korean apartment. 

What contemporary design trend do you despise? I respect the trends, but I don’t think much about it when I’m working. 

Finish this statement: All design should...be diversified. I think diverse styles and fields of design have to exist. 

What’s in your dream house? Some greens. Indoor or around my house. Some edible greens and some for the beauty. 

Did you pick up any new hobbies or learn a new skill while in quarantine? What was it? It’s not new, but I’ve been able to have more time for drawing, which I love to do. Drawing brings me into a new imaginary world and helps me clear my mind. I like that I can draw anything I imagine simply, and in some cases, it ends up being realized as physical objects.

A closer look at the Cantilever Table by Nina Cho

How do you think the pandemic will affect residential design in the future? What about workplace or commercial design? I think the new culture will be created around one's home. We may have to keep spending more time at home, and that will change the focus on what your lifestyle is at your home rather than when you go out. Not only the experiences, but the look of it, including fashions, interiors, furniture etc. at home to share on social networks. 

How can the design world be more inclusive? By understanding diverse perspectives. 

What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? I’d say, especially in my work, it’s not simply the result, but the long process of thinking and research.

You can learn more about Cho by visiting her website or on Instagram.     

The Dwell 24 2020

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