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Interview: Teo Yang on His Elegant Design Philosophy

ByTalenia Phua Gajardo
Interview: Teo Yang on His Elegant Design Philosophy

Teo Yang, Artwork: Jean Michel Othoniel. Credit: Studio Hur, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

Teo Yang is the founder of Teo Yang Studio, a design studio that specialises in high-end residential and branding commercial projects, with an emphasis on modern architecture and custom detailing. His studio aims to bring a fresh approach to elegant, tailored interiors through the cohesive blend of traditional and contemporary elements. His mix of high art and personal treasures creates moments of timeless beauty in these spaces.

He began his career traveling and working in many vibrant cities, such as Amsterdam, Berlin and L.A, designing luxury interiors for boutique hotels and homes. After many years of learning and creating in these beautiful cities, he returned to Seoul and opened his studio in 2009. Over the course of his career, Teo has worked on interior design projects all over South Korea, some of which have been featured in Vogue Living, Elle Decor, and Lemon Tree magazine. He has also had the opportunity to work for and learn from the legendary designer Marcel Wanders.

This week, The Artling had the opportunity to speak to Teo Yang on his how his cultural experiences have shaped his projects, Seoul's local craftsmanship, and his personal art collection.

Gyedong Hanok Residence - Living Room, Artwork: Lee Bae. Credit: Shim Yun Suk from Studio Sim, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

Tell us a bit about your background and how you started your practice?

I grew up in Seoul but left home at the age of 19, studying interior architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, then environmental design at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. I developed a huge interest in revisiting ancient Korean folklore and philosophy in, of all places, Amsterdam, where I worked for Marcel Wanders. Observing how the Dutch design star reexamined his own heritage, I began to mind the rich culture of Korean traditional craft. I realised I could do the same in Korea. In my country, there is a simplicity and rawness that people find through nature, which I draw on. I’m not interested in mimicking the old, but it is a strong inspiration. Traveling and living abroad inspired me to look at myself and made me want to go back to my own roots. I now live and work in Seoul creating brands and spaces.  

Gyedong Hanok Residence - Dining Room, Artwork: Choi Myong Young, Cabinet Wallpapers: deGournay's Korean Collection, Earthenwares: Ancient Earthenwares from Three Kingdoms Period in Korea. Credit: Shim Yun Suk from Studio Sim, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

You're a big advocate of preserving local craftsmanship - How does this come through in your projects and work?

My home has become a case study for me, for the past 10 years I have lived and worked out of two traditional hanoks built in 1917, using it as my personal residence and part as my design studio. Built out of stone, tile, and wood, using traditional techniques, the early-20th-century residences were devised to weather humid summers and snowy winters alike, keeping people healthy year-round. The architectural messages don’t stay in the past. They still speak to people living in the 21st century, and I am constantly learning and being inspired by it. The house has given me a role of translator between past and present, repackaging centuries-old philosophies into contemporary spaces, products, and branding projects for a worldwide audience. I adapted Joseon-era still-life paintings into wallpapers for de Gournay, and the moon—a Korean symbol of good luck—into an elegant bed for Savoir. I recently redesigned the lobby of the Silla History Gallery at the Gyeongju National Museum. And also launched my skin-care line, EATH Library, but consults for international cosmetics brands like SK-II and LG Cosmetics.

Kukje Gallery - The Restaurant, Artwork: Haegue Yang. Credit: Shim Yun Suk from Studio Sim, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

You work from home - Could you tell us about this space and how you have designed the space to suit your practice's needs.

I live in a Hanok (traditional wooden house) in a neighborhood called Bukchon Hanok Village. It is an old residential town nestled between Gyeongbok and Changdeokgung palaces, traditional homes dating to the Joseon dynasty offering a reminder of the Korean peninsula’s rich aesthetic history. We don’t have many of these buildings left in the city, so I wanted to minimize the interior to highlight and preserve the original elements and allow the history to speak for itself. Many visitors find the house very calming and soothing. I think the natural materials of wood, stone and ceramic, present in the original features, infuse it with a serene atmosphere.

Gyedong Hanok Residence - Tea Room, Artwork: Ufan Lee. Credit: Shim Yun Suk from Studio Sim, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

What kind of artworks do you personally collect and what do you currently have your eye on?

Besides my parent's collection, the first artwork I bought was by Ahn Kyuchul, one of the most famous conceptual artists in Korea. Ahn is also an author and a philosopher and I’m fascinated by how he translates his writing into beautiful sculptures and installations. In 2015, I went to his exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. I was so intrigued by the show that I went about seven times. I was happy to encounter his work again in 2017, at a smaller exhibition at Kukje Gallery, where I acquired Leopard Sheep (2017). My collection features works in various mediums, and includes contemporary art to antiquities. Artists in the collection include Ufan Lee, Jean Michel Othoniel, Kiki Smith, Elmgreen & Dragset, Haegue Yang, George Baselitz, Lee Bul, Lee Bae and Zhao Zhao.

Kukje Gallery - The Restaurant, Artwork: Haegue Yang. Credit: Shim Yun Suk from Studio Sim, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

What are your Top art tips for Seoul - this could be art galleries, museums or cultural centres.

Seoul’s art scene has risen quickly. And to experience the active momentum be sure to visit the Samcheong-dong area, especially around the Gyeongbok royal palace and MMCA (Modern Museum of Contemporary Art).  Local gallery giants such as Kukje Gallery (since 1982), and Arario Gallery (since 1989) helped establish a vibrant scene and international galleries such as Perrotin and Lehmann Maupin are right around the corner. In Hannam-dong, you will find Pace Gallery and Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery, which recently opened a Seoul branch, where I designed the space.

Samseongdong Residence - Living Room, Artwork: Gregor Hildebrandt. Credit: Shim Yun Suk from Studio Sim, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

We'd also love to know what your top picks would be from our Art or Design section! Could you select your top 3 to 5 favourite pieces that you would use for a project?

Gyeongju National Museum - Silla History Gallery's Lobby Area, Artwork: Silla Period Earthenware. Credit: Shim Yun Suk from Studio Sim, Image courtesy of Teo Yang Studio

Tell us about some of your projects on the horizon...

I will be launching a perfume brand, early this year. And will work on branding a hotel and my third National Museum project will be revealed soon. I am sure it will be another exciting and an artful year.

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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