Considering the Source as We Design

Currey & Company design team source in China

The Currey & Company Team during a recent trip to China: Front row (l to r) Iian Thornton, Brownlee Currey and Clarence Mallari; back row (l to r) Nancy Fan, Chris Lui, Cecil Adams and Aimee Kurzner.

A wise man once said “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” Well, whomever composed this Chinese proverb didn’t know the talented design team at Currey & Company, as the varied points of view of each one brings strength to the collaborative process. This is one of the benefits our VP of Creative, Cecil Adams, said the coterie of designers gleaned from a trip to China last month—the first one they’ve ever taken as a full team.

 

The Source of All Inspiration

Brownlee Currey in China

Iian looks on as Brownlee greets the man serving tea.

“About a year ago, Brownlee and I had a conversation about gathering the whole design team together so we could see the sources we have available to us in China,” Cecil explains. “Nancy Fan, Pearl Wong and Chris Liu in our Hong Kong office are very adept at planning so they made the trip seem easy, though it was far from it, as it was all planes, trains and automobiles the entire time!” Brownlee, who had been taking these sourcing trips on his own in the past, took Clarence Mallari, Iian Thornton, Aimee Kurzner and Cecil with him as they factory-hopped around the country.

Glassblower in China, a Currey source

A glass blower demonstrates his trade.

Not only did the group get to see where porcelain was born, they visited glass and terracotta factories, and locales where brass is the big material. “One porcelain factory was like an artist studio, though the pieces they were making is on a surprising scale—from giant columns to large vases like the one that was given to the Obama’s,” Cecil says. “We took calligraphy lessons and had an amazing lunch on the grounds at a tea house while peacocks roamed around as we ate!”

Clarence Mallari does Calligraphy

Clarence practices the art of calligraphy.

“It’s great for the designers to go and watch how the craftspeople there do things,” he adds. “They saw artisans working with everything from primitive terracotta to the highest-end porcelain.” He says it was clear to him during this trip that the Chinese are embracing their heritage more strongly than he’s ever seen, taking the past and bringing it forward in modern ways: “You can see the legacy most predominantly in porcelain.” A porcelain trader’s sample was one of the things he saw that fascinated him the most. “It must have had 20 different patterns on it,” he explains, “and I could just see the merchants going along the silk road with these sales tools centuries ago!”

Vases in China a factory visited by Currey & Company

A cache of vases tucked away in a factory in China.

Though Clarence has traveled to China quite a lot in the past seven years, he had never been to the northern climes and he said this has changed his perspective on the country as a whole. “It’s very similar to traveling to different regions in this country,” he explains. “New York City, for example, is nice but it’s very different than Montana!” He was seriously impressed with the quality of porcelain to which they had access as they visited the factories there. “I’ve seen very expensive porcelain but only in magazines and on television,” he notes. “Now, I’ve been to the birthplace of the finest porcelain—of such a high quality it was where pieces were made for the Chinese royalty during the old dynasties.”

Blue and White porcelain China

Blue and white porcelain in traditional colors with a modern spin.

He had not realized before this trip that the northern region of the country is where the glassblowers make their crystalline products, the cold climate making it more suitable for this artform that generates so much heat. “My perspective of materials changed as a result of seeing these design disciplines in the different parts of the country,” he adds. “It was great to get to travel with the entire team because we were able to hear everyone’s ideas while we were experiencing new things.”

Glassblower Handling Glass

A glassblower handles pliable glass before turning it into a design.

Iian celebrates that he was able to meet the craftspeople, whom he says are far from mere Chinese factory workers; they are true artisans who have honed their crafts over decades and are participating in trades that have been passed down in their families for generations. “They’ve turned their skills into lifestyles,” he says. “This shows what you can do when you dedicate yourself to a craft for an entire lifetime.”

Pottery vignette in China by Brownlee Currey

Brownlee turned his creative eye loose, capturing this vignette during the trip.

He was seriously impressed with the humility he saw. “These people do the same thing day-in and day-out—to them it’s just a job,” he explains. “But they don’t realize what an impact they have on the rest of the world when the products they make travel far and wide to make the lives of so many different people around the globe more beautiful.” No element he saw was too small for notice. “As an example, these artisans come up with new finishes that they are able to create because they’ve been working with the materials for so long,” he says. “Having them explain it can be a breakthrough for us as designers because it opens us up to new perspectives that we bring to our work.”

Aimee of Currey & Company at a source for glass

Aimee, looking at glass, is always absorbing ideas that will show up in her designs.

Aimee says the trip opened her mind to new possibilities, as well: “Whenever you are on the ground and can see the factory’s capabilities, you can design to their strengths. Seeing the machinery and the skills of the craftspeople inspired new ideas that we can now incorporate into our designs.” What was it like for Iian to be around the rest of the team in such inspiring surroundings? He says, “It’s dangerous to have that amount of creativity going on in one place all at once!”

 

Summer Markets

House China Brownlee Currey

Enjoy a few of the creative shots Brownlee captured as we move back to our continent. We’re busy as bees preparing for summer markets. Here are a few details about where we’ll be and when:

Old box with stones

From June 20 through 26, we’ll be at the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market in World Trade Center, Suite 10000. Stop by and say hello, and ask our designers about their inspiring trip to China if you see them—there is so much more they could share about their experiences.

Bowl of soup in China

From July 10 through 16, our showroom in the Americas Mart Building 1, Suite 14F10, will be a vibrant place during the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market. We’re hosting Amy Flurry for a book signing on July 13 from 3 to 5 p.m. when she will sign the Designer Edition of Recipe for Press,which offers tips about how to pitch projects to the media as well as how to create that all important buzz.

Beauty shot of airport in China

From July 29 through August 2, you’ll find us at Las Vegas Market in Building C, Suite 398. We invite all of our Left Coast friends to come by for a peek at our newest products and a Vegas-sized vibe. We’re sure you’ll want to ask Brownlee if he snagged a ride in this adorable car that captured his attention!

Tiny car in China

There’s a wonderful essay about the human touch in design written by Brownlee here on the blog. It is definitely worth a read!

Saxon Henry is an author, a content strategist and creator, and The Modern Salonnière.