It was during what he calls an “affirmative visit” to Chandigarh that the furniture designer Nathan Yong came to a revelatory decision. The northern Indian city is known to have been rigorously planned by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Inspecting the details that shape the city’s monumental concrete Brutalist buildings is almost like observing art in a museum to Yong. “I’ve been informed by modern Brutalist architecture for a long time. But that visit made me feel the whole scale of it,” he recalls. “Good architecture really does speak to you. It made me realise that the way forward is to push this project out.”
Yong is talking about the debut of his design alter ego, KSY. The name is an acronym of his Chinese birth name Kok Seng Yong — a grand return of sorts to his roots. “Maybe it’s a coming-of-age,” the 49-year-old says. “I’m getting older but [also] more confident, more in touch with who I am today. I want to be able to bare it all.”
Yong began experimenting with the balance of form and function 20 years ago. The designer — who is also the co-founder of Grafunkt, the multi-brand furniture retailer, and a full-time lecturer teaching product design at Lasalle — has always been intrigued with the limits of balance and how far he can go to tip the scales. His earlier works, for instance, include a shelf made of ultra-thin sheets of steel that would become near-invisible when filled with books, and a wooden bed stand that is elevated to the height of the archetypal dining table, with stairs attached to its side to underscore the idea that going to sleep means entering a different realm.
Being a designer, he thinks, means still having to cater to certain demands of functionality. But with KSY, he hopes to eschew that commercial expectation altogether. “With this separate platform, I want to be free to do what I really want to do,” he says.
Enter KSY’s first collection. Titled “Soft,” the series of eight marble objects — from a small table lamp and a bar stool to a 1.8-metre-tall shelf — strikes a kind of remote, impractical beauty, the kind meant to be marvelled at from a distance. Although its furniture-resembling outlines are familiar, the opalescent pieces refute the aesthetic of efficiency. “These aren’t real furniture, them being uncomfortable is not the point,” Yong explains. Rather, they’re meant to invite unexpected interactions or incite questions on whether or not they can actually be used, or how they were made in the first place, he says. “When living in a city, one learns to become pragmatic about things: the objects that surround us, the way we use them. We’ve become too detached and logical.”
Yong focuses on manipulating onyx marble to reveal surprising properties. To produce the pieces, he worked with an Indonesian factory that has patented a technique of bending marble. Such undulating forms comply to Chandigarh’s sturdy yet somewhat fluid Brutalist sensibilities — and seem to shape-shift when viewed from different vantage points. The rack, made of green marble with golden veins, is sculpted in a structure that’s curled into long semicircles. Its facade displays typical symmetrical shelves. Yet from behind, it appears satisfyingly tactile: the gentle curves of its surface are like glossy bamboo stems that are bisected then joined together. A smooth three-seater bench, or what seems to be so, is so pointedly arched it would be too unbearably sloped to even perch on it. From the side, its profile frames its hollow form, an ingenious glimpse into its delicate build.
“Soft” was meant to debut at the Milan Furniture Fair last April. A few weeks before the event, the mammoth furniture fair had to be cancelled, due to the sweeping pandemic. “But if nothing goes wrong,” says Yong. “I’m hoping this collection can make its overdue appearance in Milan next year.”
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