Since moving back to Hong Kong from New York, in 2006, and establishing interior-design practice 1:1, architect Gene Miao has made a name for himself designing streamlined interiors that blend natural materials with a raw edge. Now his attention has shifted to furniture, with a collection that will be launched at Miao's space in the PMQ (police married quarters) design complex in Central.
Where did your inspiration come from? "About two years ago, I came across a construction site and, on the sidewalk, I saw a bunch of timber door frames. I thought, 'Maybe I should bring them back to my office,' without knowing what to do with them."
Had you made furniture before? "Here and there, usually for clients, but not using solid timber, because it requires a different set of skills. So I brought back the door frames and made a table. Each section of the table was a different door frame and I used plywood to interlink them. The base is mild steel but the top is solid."
It's hard to tell that the table is made from salvaged wood. "Yes, you can't really see where it came from, because it's so clean and polished. I'm working on a bench right now and I'll be using the shapes of the door frames more, so you can tell they were door jams."
Your pieces look 1960s-inspired. What do you like about that era? "It's kind of Scandinavian. Solid wood is a sensual material; it gets better with age. It's about the quality of workmanship and timelessness. I like things that can last for a long time as opposed to things that are trendy. Another thing is that, although it's better now than it was 15 years ago, options for furniture in Hong Kong are limited. You either go to Ikea or you go somewhere that sells imported Italian furniture for a lot of money. I want to see if I can offer an alternative."
You're also using plywood. Why? "Plywood is considered a cheap material. Often, the structure of furniture is made out of lesser-grade plywood and then wood veneer is used to clad the outside, giving the impression that the entire piece is solid wood. This kind of furniture may look nice in the beginning but it does not stand the test of time. I use plywood differently. Instead of concealing how a piece is made, I am revealing how it is put together. Often I expose the edge of the plywood, so the plywood needs to be of a good quality. When I use wood veneer, I do so in a way that you can tell it is veneer and not pretending to be solid wood. It is a more honest approach to furniture making. What you see is what you get."
Do you make the pieces yourself? "Most of the work is a collaboration. I'm trying out different sifu. Six months ago I went back to the United States and took a woodworking course. I now have a little wood shop next to my office."
What have you done with your space in the PMQ? "For me, material is important. I've used surplus materials that have been sitting in my office for a long time and stacked them up to create this textural background against a neutral cement board in an alternating gridwork."