French architect Virginie Moriette, who with her Chinese designer husband, Xu Ming, began the Shanghai-based studio in 2006, reveals how they discovered a gap in the market for their unusual items of furniture.

How did you meet your husband and start Studio MVW? “We met in Shanghai while we were working for the architect Paul Andreu, whom we both admire. We started designing furniture for our own home. Friends liked it because it was quite creative compared to what you could find in China. When we were working for international agencies, we were working on great projects but couldn’t actually use our creative minds fully. The first year we set up our office we won a prize from Elle Decoration in China. That’s how people came to know us.”

What was the first piece you made? “We had a large apartment and we wanted to split the space into two, providing intimacy without blocking the view. We designed wooden library shelves. They had tall, curved forms, reaching from floor to ceiling, which echoed slender tree trunks. They allowed nature to flow into our living space. We made three of them in slightly different designs.”

What informs your designs? “We are very much inspired by China because we live here and it has a long history of beautiful objects. But we don’t use old objects literally. The idea isn’t to simplify them or create a contemporary version. We are inspired by the way people have thought and the purpose of objects – how they worked and how designers used materials. We are also inspired by our travels in Asia. We were educated in Europe so, of course, we find inspiration from there as well.”

Tell us about the Jinshi collection you showed at The Salon Art + Design fair in New York recently.Jinshi translates as ‘golden stone’. The series is about a combination of raw and refined materials, and natural and man-made. We showed nesting tables and a dining table with a subtle raw-gold anodised steel framework. The tabletop appears to levitate on two pink jade bases. The tabletop is made from white marble from Myanmar. It has graphic patterns with a lot of black lines. The idea was to have something very light combined with something very natural.”

How have you contributed to the design scene in Shanghai? “There aren’t really design galleries based in China. But we think they will come soon. We have clients approaching us trying to find something different. So perhaps we’ve contributed by doing limited editions. In China, furni­ture can be quite commercial. People often talk about brands. Branding is one thing but with limited editions it’s about doing special pieces. It’s something that’s between art and design. You have to be creative and surprise the audience and do something they haven’t seen before.”