Gu Qi is a furniture designer based in Beijing. He majored in industrial design and graduated from Huaqiao University, Fujian in 2005. Originally from northeast China, Gu Qi travelled extensively in China’s coastal cities such as Changzhou, Xiamen and Shanghai before arriving in Beijing. Design China sat down with him this week to discuss his journey to date.
What brought you to Beijing?
When I was in Shanghai, I owned a café that combined furniture and interior design. It wasn’t that successful though, so I moved to Beijing and met up with my girlfriend. I have found that the craft tradition is much better in the capital. There are more resources to work with, and the factories are much more accessible.
What are your experiences of working with the local factories?
At the moment, this is not a problem for us. We have been working with one factory in particular for nearly 3 years now; the craftsmen there are really good at what they do. We just send in the drawings of our designs, and they get on with the manufacturing process. If any changes or modifications need to be done, we work together with the craftsmen to make them. Our relationship with them is very good.
How did you develop an interest in design?
This was quite accidental. When I was studying at university, I was actually undertaking a non-design course. I switched to industrial design because I was looking for something easier. I didn’t really put much effort into my work, and I definitely wasn’t planning on becoming a designer later on. It was only until later – when I started moving around the country - that I really started to pay attention to my living environment.
The first time I can say that I was really interested in design was when I set up my café. I started designing my own furniture around this time because I couldn’t find what I was looking for on the local market.
Why did you decide to specialise in wood?
There are three main reasons for this: wood has great potential, it is natural, and it is very strong as a material. My father’s generation used to make their own furniture from wood, but these processes have slowly been replaced by machine-made, mass-produced items that are usually low in quality and very cheap. I am interested in wood for its quality – and also how it changes with time. For example, I have some furniture pieces that were created a few years ago. They are much darker in colour now compared to some of the newer pieces I created more recently. Wood furniture can be used for a longer period of time, and it can also be handed down from generation to generation. All of these properties are really interesting.
How did you go about setting up a design-based business?
Before selling individual furniture pieces, I undertook many interior design projects (that entailed furniture design also). I started the furniture design business later on when I realised its potential. I established my brand, Fanji, in 2010 and a website was created as a selling platform. We recently moved into our new showroom (located not too far from Beijing Capital Airport). Although we don’t have any Western clients at the moment and international exposure is limited, we’re really trying to focus on strengthening the brand and taking it as it goes.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I really feel that everything that has happened so far has been fate. My girlfriend, for example, studied painting in a prestigious creative school in China under great designer/creative teachers. I would have loved to be in the same position and to be taught under such great talent, but it didn’t turn out that way. I could have been an excellent graduate that went on to work under a great company, but my experiences took me somewhere else.
What are you inspired by?
I mostly focus on the practical aspects of design. I have a project, for instance, that entails collecting furniture from the streets. There are no complicated techniques in these pieces of furniture, and they are easy to use. I also read a lot of Western design books.
What are some of the challenges of the Chinese design industry?
Design is connected to everything; it is the core to everything. The situation in China right now is that most people live their lives according to a very Western lifestyle. They have abandoned the Chinese way of life. This is a dilemma, and design language needs to be adapted to address these issues. We still encounter clients that argue over 1RMB on the price tag of our designs, for example. Designers need to help people understand and appreciate local design and heritage.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to make our brand more accessible countrywide - in a way that people can experience, touch and even smell the furniture pieces themselves. I also want to develop a line of everyday objects that will combine design with traditional craftsmanship.
Thanks to Lynn Zhang for interpreting.