Exploring tradition and culture

Yang Di
Studio KAE co-founders Zhang Zhekai and Wang Keren graduated from the Royal College of Art in the UK and studied at Product design before setting up KAE in 2019.
Yang Di
Exploring tradition and culture
Courtesy of Studio KAE / Ti Gong

Studio KAE co-founders Zhang Zhekai

Who are they?

Studio KAE co-founders Zhang Zhekai and Wang Keren graduated from the Royal College of Art in the UK and studied at Product design before setting up KAE in 2019.

KAE is a young design consultation and material research studio, based in Shanghai, dedicated to being innovative with home products.

Tell us some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of?

KAE’s design practice is carried out with emotion, blending the exploration of handcrafts with an experimental making progress.

We use wasted coffee grounds as a color to stain a porcelain surface; we recycle used glass bottles to re-heat for light making and we heat pressed plastic on a mould with fabric.

The Coffire project is our most well-known project.

We used coffee grounds as pigments to dye on ceramic surfaces to create unique patterns.

During the Coffire project we applied the porcelain surface finishing technique by using used coffee grounds as a sustainable coloring material to mimic textures of marble under a mass production scenario.

The eco-conscious method of staining is inspired by the ancient pit firing technique for pottery making in China.

During the low temperature (600-800 degrees Celsius) firing process, the interaction between the biodiesel and the sugar in the coffee grounds, which oxidized to red matter, forms a random texture on the surface of the ceramics because the surface texture is influenced by many variables, such as temperature, humidity and coffee grounds’ density, etc.

This project developed an imperfect design language, from the perspective of a relationship between industrial standardized production and craftsmanship.

Are you currently involved with any project?

We currently have a cooperation project with Rong Design Library.

Rong is a critical learning environment which stimulates craftsmanship discovery and rethinking between traditional crafts and contemporary design.

We found a lot in common with the design philosophy of crafts research and materials experiment.

We are now working together in a color research project to explore the relationship between stain methods and cross-boundary materials.

Describe your design style?

Our studio’s DNA focuses on experimental material investigations and we explore issues such as the relationship between tradition and local culture, critical approaches to sustainability and the significance of objects as cultural conduits.

What does your home mean to you?

Home is particularly special this year because most of us have spent lots of time at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. And for many designers, like us, we find everyday materials to make rough 3D models without professional facilities. Home goes far beyond what we can imagine, it is like an unlimited space for us.

What do you collect?

We sometimes collect different kinds of material samples. Most of the samples are born from unpredictable accidents and then they become an inspiration.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

Shanghai is a modern city. It’s full of Chinese culture but also with European patterns and designs. But for me, I like to spend a lot of time in galleries, such as the West Bund Gallery or How Gallery.

What will be the next big design trend?

We believe that the future design will be a diverse trend.

I can see that every section of design has begun to penetrate and merge with each other, which is the inevitable result of design development. There will be a strong connection between biological design and product design and the engineering design between fashion design. ... These reveal the inclusiveness and openness of design. Also sustainability and the eco-system will be another design trend.

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