Myounghan Kim

06.23 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

aA design museum, Founder & owner

Eomso-ri, Seorak-myeon, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do

Founder and owner of aA design museum, Myounghan Kim stands out as one of nation’s most influential collector and design specialist of contemporary furniture. In the young streets of Hongdae, where today’s hip becomes tacky tomorrow, he’s been running aA design museum, a local fixture for over a decade, which serves as a gallery & cafe. We came across the news of his new place in Gapyeong—a second home and studio named ‘aA donkey atelier.’ In the woods where his father had spent his later years, Kim talks about living the life distant from today’s loud trend.

정유진

Before we go deeper into our interview, please introduce to us about aA donkey atelier.

First of all, I needed a place where I could take my time off from everything. Personally it’s my sub-home and work-wise, it’s a studio and staff residence. When I observe young generations of today they tend to overlook the present and only focus on what will come ahead of them. I’m afraid their best of interest is solely about filling their CVs. So I thought it’d be nice if my low-paid but hard-working staff were offered a residence, free of charge, and be able to live a leisurely life and share emotional values altogether in the place where I intended to do so. And in the meantime, majority of the young folks that wish to open their own studios or workshops in the city are discouraged—rents are too high and troubles with neighbors are highly likely to be caused by the noise from all the furniture-making practices. So aA donkey atelier is fully open to those groups and it’s equipped with everything they need to produce and manufacture furnitures.

 

Is there a particular reason for naming it ‘donkey’ out of all other animals?

Compared to the handsome horses, donkeys are less the good-looking ones but a lot more warming. And they’re one of the most enduring creatures. In the highlands of Greece or the Himalayas, donkeys are still their means of transportation. They’re diligent and honest to a fault. So the name shows my hope of relating my staff to the donkey’s pure nature because they have to endure a vicious boss.(laugh)

How did you come all the way to Gapyeong?

Well, this is originally my father’s land. His former house is located down there and this one was freshly added. He was around my current age when he first moved to Gapyeong and the young me back then couldn’t understand him. With the same money, I thought it made more sense to buy a decent apartment in Seoul instead, but my father just smiled away my puzzled look. And a big chunk of years have passed and now that I’ve reached my father’s age when he moved, I could understand completely why he left the city and come all the way here. He worked for the government for nearly 40 years and he must’ve wished to live at ease for the rest of his life after his retirement. Majority of my father’s generation had lived on an edge to raise children and keep their families. And it was after his retirement when my father was finally able to take life much easier. This place is the most secluded place out of the whole Gapyeong area, located at the end of the middle-of-nowhere part of the region. I love the wide, empty plain in front of the house and the panoramic landscape drawn ahead of me, and I realized that this heart comes from my father.

 

Do you notice any changes compared to the past?

It’s a small neighborhood but accommodates as much as nearly 300 residents. The average age is about 75. Nothing has changed. Most own farms or orchards and hardly anyone breed cows and pigs so it’s a very neat area.

Was there something specific you had in mind when you organized the space in the beginning?

The aA design museum in Hongdae that opened in 2007 was more like a gallery so it’s a real fancy space. And at that time I was eager to show the public what industrial architecture really looked like. But on the contrary, I decided to make this place cozy and leave out all the dress-ups. Nothing stands against nature, you know. And it’s a place just for myself and the staff so the first thing had to be all about comfort. I purposely didn’t do much on the landscape and garden either. Nature has its own orders and we should just take our time and leave ourselves to what nature offers us.

Being one of the major furniture collector in this country, you must’ve put a lot of effort in selecting which furnitures to bring here.

Sadly, furnitures are all I have.(laugh) Børge Mogensen and Raymond Loewy are designers rarely talked about in the media but their designs are familiar, like their sofa and drawer that I brought. You’ll see a good combination of vintage products such as the door from Scotland, used more than a hundred years ago, the tiles from France, the sink French gardeners once used, and even the finishing materials and equipments are vintage. They’re all obscure products that were formerly used everyday.

We’re curious to know how you spend your day here.

I eat breakfast and take walks, eat lunch and take walks, eat dinner and take walks...I take a lot of walks here. When I go to bed early, I wake up as early as four in the morning and when I’m up I read. There’s hardly any noise here so books are read precisely.

 

What is it like to be living in this peaceful place after the bustling Hongdae?

I lived a competitive life until my mid-30s. It was a result of being used to living within a frame others have made. And here, you get bored most of the time so you often find yourself reasoning. For instance, I started looking back to those days when I was once really mean to an employee or the times when I broke up with a lover in a terrible way. It’s like, all of my mistakes from the past are coming back to me. It’s important to live everyday a good life but us as human beings, we also need to keep forging ourselves. And this especially applies to people that are engaged in art or design, otherwise they’ll end up repeating themselves. So this place enables me to look back at myself more than ever.

How did your lifestyle change after you started a second life here?

Here in Gapyeong, I put aside readings related to the economy or what’s hot and new. It’s been quite some time since I stopped my obsession over the trend. When I go on a trip to New York, my head gets all occupied with thoughts and ideas on my way back on the plane because I need to switch those ideas into ways to earn money. On the contrary, when I return from Tibet, my mind is refreshed. And that’s because all our fixed or conventional values don’t mean anything there because they value things that are totally different. So it’s a similar case—I don’t think about making money as long as I’m here.

 

Is it possible to live apart from the trend, considering that you once stood at the forefront of it?

In a capitalistic society, it’s important how one breaks out of the conventional frame someone else made. Because trend is also like a frame that binds things. Everytime I visit a select shop in Japan these days, it’s shocking to realize that there’s ‘no trend’ there. The emphasis is to present high quality of blending and structuring their originalities. In other words, it’s a great example of ‘identity.’ But in Korea, only the trend exists and the identity is not yet formed. This shows how different the two countries are in terms of cultural depth.

Could you tell us about the lifestyle brand ‘few & far’ you’re preparing?

The designers or people that come to aA design museum to enquire about furnitures, they all have one thing in common. They have good tastes and desire to own good products but not enough money. And that’s because we live the days that throw countless subjects to spend money on. Therefore most of us lack the chance to fulfill our emotional side in life. So I came up with the idea of creating a lifestyle brand composed of a good selection of local designers’ products, sold at reasonable prices. It took me about 5 years to test it out. It wasn’t easy to find those that understood the concept of furnitures and daily appliances that stem from the craft aspect and not art.

Where did the brand name ‘few & far’ originate from?

Actually, few & far is not aA design museum’s original brand. It was Sir Terence Conran’s sister Priscilla Conran’s from UK, which she found in 2002. We became friends after an interview and she told me she was planning on closing her few & far brand for personal reasons. I felt so sorry about it since I thought the name and concept was too nice to let go, so I asked if I could use it for myself and luckily she was totally okay with it.

 

What is its meaning?

‘few’ means ‘minority’ and ‘far’ means ‘to go further with ideals.’ In a way it has a community spirit. In this coming fall, the aA design museum will undergo a total overhaul and transform into a few & far store. The place will be centered around books. With 10,000won, there are only three leisurely activities we could engage ourselves with—movies, music and books. And these are essentially analogue resources. So I’m preparing to present this few & far with a strong will to emphasize an emotional value instead of a mere trend. It’s aimed for the 40s who experienced both the digital and analogue era, as a space for them to take some time off. The goal is to work out design and lifestyle with books as a medium.

The young generations of today are different now, they treat lifestyle as a core source for life. From your point of view, being a person indulged in the lifestyle related field for a long period of time, why do you think such change has come?

In comparison to the large group of people in their 40-50s that own nice cars, the younger generation care less about the possession of it. For them, relative values are not as important as their own values. And today’s teenagers or people in their 20s probably have stronger will in those terms. Young people in their 20s who live alone started to adorn their interiors. So it’s more about the products that fill their own spaces rather than fashion or cars to show-off to people. The younger folks consider their time spent at home as much of a big deal now. And relatively, club cultures or get-togethers are starting to fade off. Also, most of the people in their 20-30s live with their strong free will without being swayed by someone else’s standards or values or the trend. Whereas the group in their 40s own houses without a specific taste or concept, the 30s are starting to break away from all the tired showing-offs just to save their faces. I think people are beginning to treat their own values more importantly. And I’m pretty sure that will bring lifestyle into a more crucial realm.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Sunyudo Park

343 Sunyuro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
9 Sunyudo
02-2631-9368
09:00-23:00(Apr-Oct), 09:00-21:00(Nov-Mar)

“Bring a sandwich with you in the late afternoon on a weekday and you’ll get an extravagant feeling as if the whole park exists just for you.”

It is Korea’s first regenerated ecological park which opened in 2002 after a minimum remodeling took place at the former Sunyu Purification Plant, in order to blend the life-expired facility with nature. Within the 114,000㎡ of the Sunyudo area, a water purification center, aquatic botanical garden and environmental water playground are facilitated along with the many eye-catching ones like the Han River Exhibition Hall and Garden of Time, with a number of resting areas and the availabilities of ecology studyings and nature experiences. The pedestrian bridge that connects from-and-to the Yanghwa district(Yeongdeungpo-gu) also leads to the World Cup Fountain and World Cup Park, offering great views of the Han River surroundings. Kim recommends to make a peaceful visit to the Sunyudo Park on a late afternoon during the week rather than on crowded weekends or holidays.