Hyeonho Shin

10.28 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

Curious Lab, Carpenter

Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

In Korean, the word carpenter, Moksu, is a combination of letters that mean ‘tree’ and ‘hand,’ which are the two things that constitute most of his time. One who has the habit of saying “I have no choice but to..” carpenter Hyeonho Shin pours out his utmost effort and sincerity on what his hands build. By viewing and hearing about the process of his squared apartment neatly filled up, we could also picture his every breath being caught as he lays his hands on every grain of wood.

Yoojin Jung

Please introduce yourself.

I own a furniture brand called Curious Lab(www.curious-lab.co.kr) along with Craft Bro. Company(www.craftbrocompany.co.kr) which I run together with a metal craftsman, Sangmin Lee. I studied urban engineering in college in Korea but later switched my course to design and went to Torino, Italy and studied car design there.

 

When did you start making furniture?

I worked at a yacht design company during the first year after graduation until the company moved to France, and flew back to Seoul. Before being employed at a design consulting company I had three months of my time and found a notice of a furniture production class from a magazine. That was how I first set foot in carpentry.

 

So it was initially a pastime thing.

Shortly after though, the class got cancelled because it ran short of participants. But at that time a close friend of mine moved to a new house in Yongin city and told me their master bedroom was shaped like a hexagon, which was a tough space to place standard furnitures because of the multiple angles. So he asked me to make one for him and that sparked me to dig deeper into wook work and register for a new carpentry class. Come to think of it, it was the first built-in furniture I ever made. I would go to work during the week and learn how to make furniture on weekends.

What triggered you to become a carpenter full-time?

In the beginning I didn’t start all this because I particularly loved wood or the carpentry. The projects I was in charge with at work were large in scale and they pretty much depended on the partner companies so there wasn’t much I could do nor make decisions on my own. Growing tired of that, I began to wonder about the things I could do and become my own boss. Carpenting began from designing to producing and ended with shipping, which all ran under my control. And being able to take over everything myself was the best part about it. Besides, I could still be doing it even if I got old. I figured I could at least craft some chopsticks anytime to make a living as an old man, you know.(laugh)

 

What do you feel about it now?

Now I love wood. And with every different wood I use, I get different results. For instance, I make two of the same furnitures but they end up with a different tone and grain so it feels like I’m working on two different pieces. People’s positive responses after a show boost a lot of energy as well. Especially when I go visit a client’s house to ship their finished product and see the client’s satisfaction of it, I feel that positive spirit run through my body. Furthermore, I just love the mere fact that I’m making something.

Is there a certain style you pursue?

I’m very much into the American Shaker Village style, which are thought to be the root of modern furniture. From the late 18th century to the 19th century, the Shaker community designed and produced their own furnitures, sticking to the fundamental methods like practicality and minimal design. And from there I add a little bit of my own thing. I don’t like furnitures that all look the same, without any distinguished character. I believe in order for my practice to last long, I should pursue the basics but at the same time build my own style upon it.

What does your furniture brand ‘Curious Lab’ mean?

I wanted people to wonder what it is that I do. Interior designer, furniture designer, furniture maker...in a lot of cases there’s always a clear categorization of these special jobs but I don’t want to bound myself in a single category. I want to work on a variety of things. I’ve always felt that way.

 

So the project ‘Craft Bro. Company’ you teamed up with a metal craftsman Sangmin Lee must be a good example.

Yes it is. It’s another realm where I can present my other ego as a designer. You know, there’s always a part inside you that makes you want to break out of your own thing. The Craft Bro. Company is where I can expand my style and meet that desire in me. Craftsmen like me who work on a single material like wood or metal, leather, fabric and so on always feel a great thirst to find out about others that work on different materials. Then I met Sangmin Lee by chance and found the opportunity to work on an exhibition together. We had similar visions, to make something comfortable to use rather than things that are uneasy and please the eye only.

Is there a specific reason behind your focus on bespoke furnitures?

You can get tired of making the same products over and over everyday. If Craft Bro.Company gives a bit of a transition of the standardised designs, Curious Lab is where I meet the client’s personal needs or situations to produce different products all the time while I keep my basic style. All processes and results are different which is always exciting.

You had once left Korea to study abroad. What are the differences you feel about the city from what you recall and now?

Convenience wise, it obviously became a whole lot better. But as a carpenter and a designer, looking at the design environment, it’s odd—it’s both progressive and retrogressive. The nice public buildings the city is building seems like a nice evolution but wiping out an entire old neighborhood for skyscraper apartments makes it fair to say that the city is also regressing. But overall it’s getting better. I hope so.

Where in this house did you pay your most attention to?

Every time we moved during the past decade, we never fixed a house. So this one’s the first we put our hands on in every corner. It’s a house of our dreams that came true. The master bedroom is never much of a big deal to us. Its only purpose is to sleep so it doesn’t have to be the largest room either. On the other hand, we spend most of our time in the kitchen, the dining space, the living room and the study room so for those we paid a lot of attention to. They clearly reflect our lifestyle.

 

How do you usually spend your days off?

I like being at home. I have to meet a number of people at work so my head gets preoccupied with ideas and thoughts so I guess this is like a cause of reaction—when I’m at home I find myself staring blankly into the TV. Home offers me the time to just be myself, completely cut off from the outside. Of course I have continuous work to do the next day but once I’m home, I want to break free from everything and just relax.

What does the space ‘home’ mean to you?

It ties my wife and I together. After I started this carpenter job we couldn’t find ourselves enough time to actually be together. I might be exaggerating, but we’d exchange our good nights on Sundays and go ‘how have you been?’ on Saturday mornings.(laugh) We’ve been married for 10 years now and I was surprised to realize that my wife’s taste has changed over time. I noticed something she liked at a supermarket and gladly brought it home, only to learn that she hasn’t been eating it for a while. In those terms, I think it makes home much more important. It’s where the two of us come face to face. We furnish and decorate the house together, then our conversation picks up while we get things done for our house, and filling up a space through that process makes it all worthwhile.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Yeonnam-dong

Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
2 Airport Hongik University

“The ‘good change’ took place here, where it’s less developed and has the old scenes of the neighborhood still remaining.”

 

Along with Garosugil and Gyeongnidangil, Yeonnam-dong is another place to experience Seoul’s ‘alley culture.’ Exiting from exit no.3 of Hongik Uni. Station will lead you to a town dramatically different from the actual ‘Hongdae’ area that starts from exit no.8. In the heart of Yeonnam-dong there’s the long ‘forest trail,’ known as the ‘Yeontral Park,’ which had replaced what was once an old train track. The number of artery-like alleys that stretch from the forest trail are too narrow for cars to get through but are rich with quiet and unique shops. Hyeonho Shin describes it as a ‘good change’ as Yeonnam-dong isn’t just another developed area with fresh gigantic buildings but where the old train track transformed into a nice trail for casual walks.