Heesun Kim

02.17 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

fnt & TWL, Designer

Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Co-founder of fnt design studio and lifestyle select shop TWL, Heesun Kim. Amid the speed of sprinting trends she paces slowly, addressing herself and also addressed by others as a home-kind-of-person. It’s fair to say because she embraces and enjoys with much affection the ordinary but trifling duties—which can be annoying most of the times—at home. We finally met her, settled down and living life with a pause in her dwelling just like her plants, where the customized furnitures made upon her requests by her husband, Gyuil Shim, lies in many corners of the place. Here comes their serene multiplex apartment in Nonhyeon-dong, surrounded by the couple’s ‘tranquil luxury and pleasure’. And her Seoul story told with words that spread out quietly.

Yoojin Jung

Can you introduce yourself?

I work at studio fnt(www.studiofnt.com) and TWL( www.twl-shop.com). I take responsibility in framing the big picture such as instructing design paths and assisting a number of tasks on ways to visualize them. I’m mostly involved in designs related to identity and branding. And the cooperative fnt crew got together and built a lifestyle brand named TWL. It sits in Yulgongno, Jongno-gu as a shop but not quite like an everyday shop. We produce our own, dig and discover products local and international, and we actually operate distribution as well.

You currently live in Nonhyeon-dong. I’m curious to hear about your past movings, if there were any.

I lived in an apartment in Godeok-dong, Gangdong-gu for 20 years before marriage. But I was enrolled in a boarding school(Hanseong High School for Science) so I only stayed home on weekends. And then I went into KAIST in Daejeon so there actually weren’t that many days I spent time in that apartment. I’m basically an agricultural kind of person. I’m the type who has to be accommodated in a steady home, in an area where I feel I belong in order for me to do things. And moving around is just too much for me. So my school years weren’t easy.

 

Daejeon is another big city. How is it different from Seoul?

To be honest, I don’t think I know Daejeon that well. I didn’t get out that much from school. You know, we all have our fantasies about college life. I entered KAIST a year earlier than everybody else, at the age of 18, so I obviously fantasised a whole lot more. But back then, I felt as though I was looking at some sort of a senior nursing center instead of the college I imagined. On an enormous land there were blocks of low-rise buildings, planted intermittently here and there and it gave a very still atmosphere. I usually walked to classes from my dorm but whenever I was late, I couldn’t spot a single person in that whole entire campus. Besides the break time between classes, the school was fiercely deserted. Unfortunately, Daejeon stays as a dry and tasteless city inside me. 

I’d like to hear more about your apartment in Godeok-dong, Gangdong-gu where you lived for over 20 years. It should definitely connect to your current house.

It was the first house my parents bought and the four of us lived there for a long time—long enough for my brother and I to grow up and attend college. It was a tiny apartment, of about 60sqm so it was always crowded. Marks of my height measurements drawn on the wallpaper as a kid would always remain in its place. After both of us struck out, my parents sold the house and I was later told that my mom shed some tears over it.

 

What was Gangdong-gu like?

Only after I went into society did I realize that there was a ‘Gangdong-gu sentiment’ all along. For instance, in other regions of Seoul you automatically learn, without noticing it, the gap between the rich and the poor. It’s almost natural that you soon find out that your friend’s economical status is different from that of mine. But Gangdong-gu is neither Gangnam nor Gangbuk, nor is it a place for the rich or the less-fortunate—it is a neighborhood where the average people live in peace. It’s like a far-away-eastern-land of Seoul. And not to mention that the schools are pretty good so most of the mothers take quite a bit of a pride living there. It’s a place of happy sentiment, accomplished by the petit bourgeois who send off kids to high-level colleges, get employed at renowned companies and live life to the fullest.

You moved from Nonhyeon-dong to Nonhyeon-dong.

At first both my husband and I worked in Gangnam so we agreed to settle in Nonhyeon-dong. It only took us 15 minutes to work. By the time we decided to move we searched houses near Namsan area but we couldn’t find ones that caught our minds. There was a freshly-built, mega-sized apartment complex in Heukseok-dong with all these great facilities and it seemed like a whole new world to us. There was an unmanned delivery dropbox on the ground floor and beneath it a work-out gym and swimming pool on the basement floor. We were about to sign our contract, convinced that I should transfer myself into a modernized environment, out from the old apartments and multi-housing units I dwelled all my life, realizing that I was living in the past. But then looking twice, I began to notice drawbacks, like the identical layouts, the unsatisfying built-in appliances and many other. And luckily, we soon came across a large place that was strangely open-minded to offer to meet our budget, which was not quite enough. And so we moved in.

 

Which part were you most enthusiastic about when you planned out your house?

My husband makes furniture and I run TWL. I wanted to use the products myself at home. We began filling our empty house with only the basic stuff that were enough for us to start simple. From our previous home we brought my books and my husband’s vinyls that were scattered all over the house and arranged them on top of a shelving system we bought at IKEA. The rest of the furniture were self-made and we placed them in the house one by one, slowly, over the course of several months. It’s common to quickly finish up furnishing your new house after a move or marriage because there are number of home parties to host in celebration of your new home, but if you make decisions all at once, there’s always going to be a bit of a regret later on. So I think it’s a lot nicer to take time and get yourself comfortable with your new dwelling and then fill it slowly, one after the other.

Your husband Gyuil Shim majored engineering and was formerly employed at an IT company as a planner. And later he became a woodworker. That’s very interesting.  

Well actually, I was the one who encouraged him to try woodworking as a hobby. I was in need of wooden side tables and I had this feeling that somehow he’d be good at making them. And many of his associates had been telling me he had good sense of an artisan. And sooner or later we faced a moment trying to figure out things we could do for a long period of time and came to a conclusion that making furniture was what one could do regardless of age, with the satisfaction of the fact that it was a good match of a job with his personality and taste.

 

From traditional Korean furniture to kitchen cabinets made just for you, he produces both the eastern and western-styled furnitures.

They are all made for ourselves, to use them at home. It’s sort of like we’re on an experiment on the various styles and uses, applying our daily life as a platform. My husband made the kitchen cabinet with a shallow drawer where I can store smaller plates and this was made upon my request. Out of all the necessities of life, we consider food(eating) the most essential so I think that leads to many of our thoughts and ideas based on furnitures like tables or cabinets.

The traditional book stand/cabinet and table seem to merge very well with the modern housing.

Those are the ones he made from learning the traditional cabinet-making. As soon as we moved in we placed those furniture in the house that was yet empty and as we did, we found out they were the center of the whole atmospheric current of the house. The Korean traditional furniture basically carry out an identical formation regarding the proportion or details of design. I realized that our beautiful authenticity built and passed down throughout the history blends extremely well with modern housings, even with the lack of any re-touch or reformations. On the contrary, the Thonet chair, which I’ve been passionate about for some time, took me a while to get used to once I brought it into our house. The famous design pieces are of course still favorable but in the meantime, I was thinking that it’d be good to merge the heritage of the traditional furniture into my husband’s work, since they fit perfectly with the scale of the average size of our(Korean) dwellings and our sentiments.

You often share your daily routines like your bath or tea time on your SNS.

There are those who feel better being outside but I’m more into staying at home. All the things I like doing are things done at home. Cooking, growing plants, having tea, listening to music, reading, watching movies—they’re all very obvious but I just love the in-home activities.

You raise two cats and still manage to grow a large number of plants.

To enjoy the activities at home also means that I like the slow changes. I get easily fed up with things that are repetitive with the absence of any change. Plants change constantly and very slowly. Sometimes they change surprisingly fast but overall I really like observing their every stage.

You were born and raised in Seoul. And then you temporarily left and came back. What are the charm points of Seoul?

To describe it short, Seoul is an enormous city which often fails with attempts to express itself. I can’t quite picture anything instantly when I think of the image of Seoul. For us two, the most strong impression of the city are the roads and passages. When we drive towards west on 88 Olympic Expressway near sunset, a certain emotion surrounds us. The same goes when I walk up the narrow cherry blossom road in Mangwon-dong after work, and when we come and go—well for us it means the way to work and then back home. For my round-trip I recently detoured and began to drive past the Dongdaemun area. The heavy traffic around Doota mall and DDP was stifling at first but now I find myself browsing slowly, and even enjoying the view past the window of my car. That area is a big mix of everything which is pretty amazing. One might think Seoul has a dry landscape because it’s a large, metropolitan city, but there’s still a ‘city nature’—I don’t mean the mothers nature's nature—within the city, like the river and the countless tree-filled roads. And I think those typical landscapes among the many areas of Seoul are what makes the city appealing.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Changgyeonggung

185 Changgyeonggungno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
3 Anguk
02-762-4868
09:00-18:00 (Feb-May, Sep-Oct), 09:00-18:30 (Jun-Aug), 09:00-17:30 (Nov-Jan) | Tickets close one hour prior to closing

“It carries a landscape that enables you to experience the luxury relished by the royal family back in Joseon Dynasty.”

 

Changgyeonggung was constructed in order to enlarge the living space within Changdeokgung. Therefore the two palaces were borderless, using both as one, calling it Dong-gweol(eastern palace). Changgyeonggung was built in an environment-friendly structure with a warm and cozy touch to it. The sub-buildings of the palace are located closer to each other compared to other palaces and it has a homely and open atmosphere. However, the majority of the palace was destroyed during the Japanese Colonial era and faced an ordeal of becoming downgraded into a mere garden intended for pleasurable entertainment, but today, fortunately many of its original faces have been restored since the country’s continuous effort to bring it back, which started in 1983. Going deep into the premises lies the Chundangji Pond and a path that leads to the 100-year-old Grand Greenhouse, which are the two most popular spots. Kim was shocked when she first experienced the path because the beautifully managed garden and landscape that stood over time allowed her to feel the kind of luxury the royal family of the Joseon Dynasty must have relished. She recommends the landscape of Changgyeonggung, which she believes has a distinguished style and finish from that of the Chinese or Japanese.