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Mario Tsai – The Soft Minimalist
Attending the Stockholm Furniture Fair has been a fixed highlight in our calendars for the last ten years. Last year, in 2017 was a special one though, as it was the year, we discovered the Chinese designer Mario Tsai. Last season, Spring/Summer ’18 his design “Flying Shelf” became part of our collection, and for the Autumn/Winter ’18 his table “Insert” is one of the season’s highlight. His way of incorporating geometry in his design language is a natural fit with our way of exploring new shapes. Just as his way of refining pieces in a union of function and aesthetics is in line with the way we prioritise multi-functionality for accessories and furniture.
A Journey, a Shop, a Studio
After graduating from Beijing Forestry University in 2011, he went on to work as a designer. But it wasn’t until a few years later that he found the right time and space to open up his own studio – which didn’t even begin as a studio:
“After I left my job, working as a designer and product engineer at a prominent furniture manufacturer, I travelled around China for about half a year. That let me to Hangzhou where my brother and I opened up a little shop with the interesting things I had found on my travels,” Mario says. “With the shop as my first base, this was also the time when I opened up my first studio.” Since then, the studio has moved to a new location next to the mountains and now counts six young designers who all work on the wide range of projects the studio gets in: “I really like the feeling of staying busy with different exciting projects every day, so we work on many different things – from furniture design to art installations.”
Mario Tsai had never travelled to the Nordic countries before he went to Stockholm Furniture Fair as a participant in the Greenhouse for young design talents.
“I really like the Nordic design, and I was longing to go there,” Mario remembers. “I think it’s great how Nordic brands like to collaborate with young designers from all over the world. It truly is a great opportunity for aspiring talents. So, when I got accepted to the Greenhouse, it was a fantastic chance for me. It definitely marked the beginning of my design studio,” he says.
A Softer Take on Minimalism
Influenced by the Nordic design tradition, Mario Tsai sees himself as part of a minimalist design scene. But naturally with his own take on what minimalism should look and feel like. He has sometimes referred to his approach as ‘soft minimalism’, so of course, we had to know what he means by this.
“Minimalism as the beginning of modern design makes our lives simple and beautiful, but sometimes it gets so cold and ruthless in emotions, so I try to make my minimalism softer and warmer. I try different ways to make the designs soft in their minimalism – for example by integrating mild materials or matching warmer colours,” Mario explains.
“I think it’s important to note that to me, function and aesthetics are not mutually exclusive. You just have to control the balance between the two in each design. Functionality will always be the foundation of a product, but incorporating decoration is a natural process – not a deliberate,” Mario tells and points out how this shows in the Flying Shelf:
“The sphere is not purely decoration but also a structure element, which fixates the shelf on the wall. I think the decoration of the products is there to make the function more interesting.”
The softness of his minimalism is evident in the Flying Shelf as well as the Insert Table, both of which express the dialogue between strict lines and softer shapes; between beautiful and functional. It is clear to all that to Mario Tsai, good design finds its foundation in beauty and intuition – his design language is easy, light, and focuses on usability.