Traditional Sensibilities Made Modern with Raw Materials

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By Lydia Lee and Dwell
From neon resin to found twigs, Benwu Studio's playful designs stand out.

Tapped by luxury brands such as Perrier-Jouët and Vacheron Constantin to come up with cool window displays, Chinese design firm Benwu Studio knows how to turn up the glam. But their work—which ranges from installations to cheeky accessories and rigorously considered furniture—is grounded in a deep appreciation of the natural world. Last fall, the designers were the talk of Shanghai with a pop-up shop they designed for Maison Hermès; the coup de foudre was a screen of 8,000 recycled leather scraps that evoked autumn leaves.

Traditional Sensibilities Made Modern with Raw Materials - Photo 1 of 6 - The Sumo Chair by Benwu Studio.

The Sumo Chair by Benwu Studio.


Traditional Sensibilities Made Modern with Raw Materials - Photo 2 of 6 - The chair uses 7 joins to connect all the wooden components. 

The chair uses 7 joins to connect all the wooden components. 


Traditional Sensibilities Made Modern with Raw Materials - Photo 3 of 6 - This collection of four vessels features four versatile matching lids. There are 16 different ways between the four designs to store and filter liquids or dry foods. 

This collection of four vessels features four versatile matching lids. There are 16 different ways between the four designs to store and filter liquids or dry foods. 

Benwu Studio’s 27-year-old cofounders, Hongchao Wang and Peng You, were introduced through their parents, who, at the time, thought the two industrial-design students might have something in common. Wang and You began their collaboration in 2012 as they were finishing their undergraduate studies, and continued their side projects while pursuing master’s degrees at Switzerland’s ECAL and London’s Royal College of Art, respectively. Early on, the duo used what was freely available as raw material for creative exploration: combining bundles of sticks from a nearby park with neon resin in their Twig Vessels. Among their forays into furniture is the sculptural Sumo chair, a fresh vision of Asian heirloom furniture—one that supports traditional artisans and is made of sustainable (and affordable) American hardwood, rather than endangered rosewood.


Traditional Sensibilities Made Modern with Raw Materials - Photo 4 of 6 - The object mixes resin and twigs together. 

The object mixes resin and twigs together. 

The team has since grown to four with the addition of Qiyun Deng (an ECAL alumna) and Wei Ge (a graduate of RCA), with offices in Beijing and Shanghai. "The same thing drives us all—when we are confused and looking for direction, nature is always a good reference," Wang says. "There are infinite possibilities there."


Traditional Sensibilities Made Modern with Raw Materials - Photo 5 of 6 - A salt shaker from Benwu Studio's Living Material series, made from bundled sticks and Jesmonite resin. 

A salt shaker from Benwu Studio's Living Material series, made from bundled sticks and Jesmonite resin. 


Traditional Sensibilities Made Modern with Raw Materials - Photo 6 of 6 - The Square the Citcle lamp is designed to cast a moody light and even features a USB port. 

The Square the Citcle lamp is designed to cast a moody light and even features a USB port.