When Sasha Young came across the original design for some familiar china in the archives at Cantonese ceramics specialist Yuet Tung, it was a goosebumps moment. It turned out that third-generation owner Joseph Tso’s father had crafted her grandparents’ pre-war wedding porcelain. Young’s grandfather had been captured by the Japanese during World War II and imprisoned in Nagasaki, and her grandmother had suffered in Hong Kong during the occupation, but while the couple miraculously reunited after the war, few of their possessions survived – save one plate from their Yuet Tung dinner service.
Finding its original design was remarkable – and it would also mark a new beginning. Young founded Wright & Smith in 2016 and it launched with Yuet Tung’s exclusive 5 Blessings tableware collection, based on that original design, signifying the brand’s desire to tell these stories of craftsmanship and to help customers connect with workshops focused on furthering traditional arts. Here, we highlight some of Wright & Smith’s most intriguing artisans.
“It’s great to see workshops like Retegui, a third-generation company that started out making gravestones from marble but which now makes marble furniture,” says Young. “The second and third generation have really thought about how they can reinterpret and develop those skills to keep that tradition alive and create very modern, minimalist pieces of furniture.” Founded in 1939 in Southwest France as a marble craftworks by Laurent Bergez, the company is now run by grandson Claude Retegui, who has helped to develop new techniques to combine stone with composite materials, thereby making it lighter without compromising on solidity and strength. Cutting-edge creative talents such as industrial designer Jean Louis Iratzoki and award-winning Belgian designer Sylvain Willenz have also collaborated on the style-forward furniture.
Wright and Smith works with some up-and-coming talents, such as Keren Zheng. The Beijing-based designer has modernised the 2,000-year-old Chinese high art known as dian cui, or ‘dotting with kingfishers.‘ Incorporating handmade kingfisher feathers instead of real ones, which were often attained inhumanely, he nevertheless uses age-old techniques, cutting his feathers by hand and painstakingly inlaying them in a minimalist, clean fashion on the jewel-like lids of his tea boxes, tea caddies, cups and teapots. These are, in turn, presented in a traditional stone-topped table in tribute to the ancient literati tea culture of China’s Tang Dynasty. “The fact that this young guy is referencing ancient Chinese history and developing a sense of identity around what it means to be a young Chinese designer in the 21st century is wonderful,” says Young.
The Fabrick Lab
“A large part of our mission is to support age-old techniques and what people would consider dying arts, like Cantonese ceramic work, or the work that The Fabrick Lab does with villages in Guizhou, China,” says Young. Run by designer Elaine Yan Ling Ng, The Fabrick Lab creates hand-woven fabrics and other home accessories designed and produced in collaboration with craftswomen in Guizhou. The products incorporate traditional and complex hand-weaving techniques that produce fabrics characterised by small, repeating miaodiamond patterns, and batikwork, which uses locally-harvested indigo plant leaves for dye which is then applied in patterns delineated using liquid beeswax or black bean paste. With only 10 per cent of women in these villages having inherited the know-how to maintain these textile traditions, The Fabrick Lab strives to create commercial opportunities to keep the craft alive.
Wright & Smith is constantly adding new artisans to its roster. One recent recruit is Cumbria Crystal, the last producer of completely hand-blown and hand-cut English crystal in the UK. Each piece is crafted using techniques that have barely changed since the Roman era and its wares have been embraced by royal families and featured frequently on the big screen, most recently in Oscar-winning movie Darkest Hour. As well as classic designs, Wright & Smith also carries the contemporary Boogie Woogie collection developed by award-winning Hong Kong-born, London-based designer Peter Ting.
The newest workshop to join Wright & Smith is ceramics designer Ryan Foote, who is based between Melbourne and Hong Kong and presents contemporary ceramic flatware and unique interior design items that include pieces inspired by Hong Kong’s striking scenery.
These are just a handful of the many accomplished workshops – the wrights and the smiths – that Young works with. Explore the online platform to discover more, connect with traditional artisans and their crafts and add distinctive design pieces formed for modern lifestyles and contemporary interiors to your home.