Interior designer Chris Shao, our partner in Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai, defines the new luxury
Today, we’re pleased to announce our first event in Asia: Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai! Opening November 2021 and curated by our own Aric Chen in collaboration with Violet Ruhui Wang, this unique selling exhibition would not be possible without our partners at Made In House, the Shanghai-based creative agency led by interior designer and entrepreneur Chris Shao.
Shao divides his time between New York and Shanghai, directing design offices in both cities as well as developing cultural events in China for Made in House’s roster of international clients. He recently launched Objective, an art and design gallery in Shanghai.
A busy man to be sure, Shao sat down with us to tell us more about his wide ranging practice, his admiration for 19th-century design theorist William Morris, and his definition of luxury in the 21st century.
What first sparked your interest in art and design? What led you to study at the New York School of Interior Design?
Having a typical tiger mom, my childhood was filled with extracurricular classes and tutoring, including math, English, violin, and art. Through these activities, I discovered that art is my passion. By an early age, I decided to pursue art and design as my career, because I wanted to work on something that I genuinely enjoy.
In selecting a school for my postgraduate studies, the New York School of Interior Design’s reputation attracted me straight away. At that time, it was the best interior design program in the US. Moreover, I think New York is an ideal place for international designers to develop their careers, because the city truly embraces diversity—it’s freer from more restrictive European notions of style. My undergraduate degree in business management presented a challenge as I applied to NYSID, but in the end my portfolio impressed the admission officers.
Tell us about one of your interior design projects and the vision you had for the project?
I consider my first major commission to be Ensue, Chef Christopher Kostow’s restaurant in Shenzhen. Ensue embodies my philosophy of luxury, in which the vernacular and contemporary are blended seamlessly, redefining the meaning of “Made in China” by incorporating exceptional works of Cantonese artisans and employing a design process that offers an emotional, personal, and reflexive voyage.
In 2018, during my initial design briefing with Chef Kostow at his farm in St. Helena, California, he mentioned that the trees on the farm were his luxury. This inspired me to bring an emotive aspect of the natural into the urban landscape of Shenzhen. Just as Chef Kostow embraces the earthy purity of wabi-sabi aesthetics in his cuisine, I wanted to create an effortless feeling of serenity that harmonizes contradictory senses of nature and modernity. Bridging Eastern thought with Western forms, Ensue proposes a new expression of elegance, one that celebrates impermanence and imperfection.
You’ve cited William Morris’s Arts & Crafts philosophy as a guiding light. What attracts you to this design approach?
We live in the era of mass production, in which elaborate machines and factory systems fiercely confront the intellectual and artistic practice of design. More than a century ago, William Morris advocated for the revitalization of natural materials and hand-made techniques in order to forge an emotional connection between people and objects, design and life. What I absorbed from his philosophy is his sense of loyalty to material.
Morris guides me to broaden the value of design and to look beyond the functionality of furniture and decorative objects in pursuit of a greater truth. Like Morris, I believe that design is fundamentally about unifying art, culture, nature, craftsmanship, simplicity of form, materiality, and utility. It is this ideology that leads me to combine interior design with gallery-based decoration and collectible design.
How did Made in House get started, and what kind of projects does the firm take on?
Made in House grew out of my collaboration with [strategist] Jill Gu and [designer] Bryce Cai. When we met, Jill and Bryce were my clients, but we quickly recognized that we share a similar desire to find synergies between design, art, and business. We established Made in House in Shanghai as a full-service creative agency that integrates modern aesthetics, cultural innovations, and business strategies.
Specializing in cutting-edge real estate projects, we believe that originality is the cornerstone to successful planning; that culture and art are vital ingredients to producing dynamic activations. Whether developing concepts for hotels, brand identities, or cultural events, we emphasize transformative experiences that attract young consumers and stylish communities.
Tell us about your work on Design Miami/ Podium Shanghai? What can visitors expect to find there?
Made in House is bringing Design Miami/ Podium to No.1 Waitanyuan, an English Renaissance-style, former British embassy on the city’s historic Bund. I’m excited to host China’s first collectible design fair at such a beautiful, historical site.
In collaboration with curators Aric Chen and Violet Ruhui Wang, we are going to exhibit works from many well-known Chinese artists, such as paintings from Guo-Qiang Cai, alongside a selection of designs from Design Miami’s community of galleries. I believe visitors will greatly enjoy their time exploring the space.
But I don’t want to give away too many spoilers! Let's keep some mystery until the opening of Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai.
Please share with us a work of collectible design that you have your eye on, and tell us why you connect with it.
I have my eye on Vincent Pocsik’s work Bia from his Pipe Beings collection, which transforms tubes into bodily forms with skill and imagination. I like Pocsik’s unconstrained ideas as well as his bold approach to materials. The fantastical walnut form is created using an intricate, self-developed technique that merges digital fabrication and hand carving.
For me, the design is deeply emotional. Bia has no head, no ability to possess thinking; it only has a twisting torso. When I look at the work, I always feel that the tube beneath the torso is a funnel to its heart. The design is a perfect balance of the functional and sculptural.
What’s next for you?
To be honest, I can’t give you a certain answer. We can never really know what’s going to happen. I enjoy the present—the current vibe and rhythm of life. I like to cross boundaries and embrace multidisciplinary insights. I will keep working hard and thinking of new ways to bring different fields and communities together. Looking back from today, though, I am proud of what I have already achieved.
Thank you, Chris! ◆
Stay tuned for more news about Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai in the coming months.