In Bergen, a designer is making mundane objects beautiful.
When Cecilia Xinyu Zhang was invited to study design in Sweden, the decision to leave her native China was easy. “I was attracted to something so exotic and different from what I was used to,” she says. Six years later, she’s a breakout talent on Scandinavia’s design scene. Here, Xinyu Zhang talks to MacKenzie Lewis Kassab about a lauded partnership with Norwegian brand Northern, and finding beauty in the quotidian.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Beijing, a city of 20 million people. It’s very dense. You’re surrounded by people speaking, walking too fast and pushing their way through the subway. I go back once in a while, just to experience something so different from Bergen, where I live now.
How did you end up in Norway?
I traveled twice to Bergen while I was a student in Sweden, and I was so in awe of the fjords, the mountains, the ocean. The weather was beautiful on both trips, so I was convinced this was the place I had to be. I didn’t know that it rains 300 days out of the year! One minute it’s sunny and the next it snows or hails. You grow to appreciate the extremes.
Your designs have a heavy focus on spatial relationships. Is that approach influenced by where you grew up?
Perhaps subconsciously, but you don’t notice the density while you’re there. In Norway, people keep a distance from each other. I really enjoy that emptiness, that void.
To what do you attribute your interest in the relationship between an object, space and the viewer?
I’ve always admired architects who create spatial sculptures on a large scale. If you look at a structure as an object, architects manipulate it with space and light. There is an enhanced reality that you can relate by creating a sense of space. [Laughs] I’m getting really abstract! I think that’s fascinating, so I approach product design in an architectural way.
How did the collaboration with Northern come to be?
The company’s founders liked an object called Nook that I exhibited at the Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair in 2016, and they asked if I could do another for them. I was given an interesting brief: to create a laundry dryer. They wanted something beautiful and functional that doesn’t have to be stowed away when not in use.