Sean Zhang of Ocrum Studios talks about design with empathy and intuition
Sean zhang, founder of Ocrum Studios, is a promising talent on the New York design scene. With his minimalist furnishings, serene lighting and round mirrors, his works have been all the rage at design fairs like Salone del Mobile Milano and Art Basel in Miami Beach.
The Brooklyn-based designer from Beijing makes design objects that are both clean and classic. Influenced by everything from the German Bauhaus to the Italian Memphis group, his work is distinguished by its simple and delicate aesthetic, both modern and classic.
It also has a signature, known for its narrative play that uses visual cues in a different context – a mirror resembles a view of a sunset or seascape, while blown glass fixtures are reminiscent of bath bubbles. Every object that Zhang seems to design is a whisper of sorts – it’s not overtly bossy, demanding, or to steal all the attention in a room. On the contrary, it seems to fit perfectly into almost any environment, like a musical instrument playing perfectly in an orchestra.
Zhang talks from his studio about the design under lockdown, the influence of Chinese Taoist culture, and why minimalism prevails, in the end.
Where do you start to design furniture, lighting and mirrors?
Sean Zhang: Much of my inspiration comes from a keen sense and appreciation for nostalgia and fragments of memories and moments in my life. My creative process usually begins by focusing on one or two of these sensory memories that I want to share and express and start to design from there. I sometimes imagine that I am in an empty space and I start to wonder what objects could fill this space and what story I could share through the objects in this space.
What kind of things are you drawn to?
I have a strong affinity for materials with luxurious and elegant textures, such as marble, and a deep curiosity for glass. Once I focus on a memory and an idea, I begin to explore the material possibilities to bring that idea to life. In the end, the two recurring themes that link all the collections in the scope of my work are empathy and emotion. Whenever I start a new piece or collection, these two characteristics will always be the driving force behind my decision making and inspiration.
How will the design of the house change, given the quarantine?
The more time we spend at home during global lockdown, the more we all begin to realize how important it is to have a comfortable home and workplace. People pay more attention to the functionality and materiality of the furniture or designer items they choose for their home. I believe that all objects in the house should have and reflect the personality of their owner in some way, to add value to their personal space.
What do you mean?
I am curious about how people interact with the objects, furniture and works of art in their spaces. It’s fascinating, especially during those long periods, now spent indoors in my forties. I believe that interior design will put even more emphasis on comfort and create more space for inspiring and unique pieces that combine function and artistic value, “functional art”.
How does intuition play a role in your design work?
Intuition is one of the essential factors in my design practice, and as a designer I believe that this sensitivity is an integral part of my work and of the creative process of any designer. I feel like intuition is a crucial player early in my design process when reviewing ideas and concepts – I can have an immediate feeling if an idea can turn into an interesting piece or not. That being said, I think that as a designer intuitive and analytical thinking go hand in hand, and later in the creative process, when it’s more grounded in the details of the design, analytical thinking becomes more critical.
Orizon Mirror is an exciting piece that you co-created with Luca Zeffiro, how does it combine Chinese and Italian sensibilities?
The piece balances the concepts of Chinese culture with the expertise of Italian craftsmanship. The Orizon mirror embodies both the dynamic and the static realms of Chinese Taoist culture, called “Dong Jing Jie He” in Chinese. The coin expresses the fluctuation of the water surface (Dong movement) and exposure to the sun (Jing calm) within a functional object. This concept comes to life thanks to Italian craftsmanship. I lived in Italy for about five years and was in love with the history of local crafts and crafts. Later, during my studies at RISD, I had the chance to experiment with ceramics. Now one of my favorite materials, ceramic, is brittle but can be fabricated and transformed into many shapes, textures and processed through various finishes and glazes.
How important is color in lighting today? It provides such a mood and atmosphere.
Color is the soul of lighting design. I think the lamp has both values in its artistic appreciation and the actual lighting function. Evening light, night light, winter light, summer light, desk light, general interior lighting – each color represents a mood, and they are all different. Now that people are spending more time at home, soft, soothing warm light can help you relax.
What projects do you have to come, how do you plan to expand your studio?
I will be launching a new collection this fall and plan to grow the studio on a regular basis. As an entrepreneur and designer, I want to combine my passion for design with the creation of an international design company here in New York, a place that is inspiring, energetic and full of diversity. I’m looking for like-minded creatives with a similar perspective to join the team and bring the studio to a more international audience in the future. Believing that “empathy” is a collective experience that transcends all cultures and languages, I would like to build a team around this and also be able to share our work derived from this experience, on a global scale.