Furniture can be viewed simply as something that we require for comfort and even beauty. But what happens when a designer contemplates furniture that takes us beyond the physical realm, drawing us into a single transient moment? 

During this year's Milan Design Week ( Solano del Mobile Milan) the attention of media from all over the world was drawn to a collection of fine furniture showcasing oriental sensibilities. The Khora five-day exhibition was hosted at the private museum Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan, and featured a series of sophisticated artisinal furniture combined with video art. 

Khora means the state of mind between existence and non-existence, being and non-being in ancient Greek. This collection is the maiden appearance at the Milan Design Week for cultural entrepreneur and designer Adrian Cheng. Cheng is the Executive Vice Chairman and Joint General Manager of New World Development, founder of K11 and the K11 Art Foundation. The collection was co-designed by the award-winning Japanese Master designer Shigeru Uchida. Through the series the two designers explored space and the connections that exist between man and nature. 

Shortly after the Khora collection was completed, sadly, Shigeru Uchida passed away. Throughout his life, Uchida worked all over the world in the fields of interior and industrial design, urban planning and furniture design. During his early years he waswell known for developingchairs that defined the quintessential spirit of modernism, including the Rattan Chair(1974), the September Armchair(1977) and the NY Chair 11(1986). He contributed to the overall concept designs for hotels including Hotel II Palazzo in Ukuoda, Oriental Hotel Hiroshima, Sapporo Grand Hotel, and the Kobe Fashion Museum for fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.  

In 1993 Uchida designed three distinctive tea rooms named So-an, Ji-an and Gyo-an, of which Gyo-an was later obtained by the Conrad Foundation in London where it is held in a permanent collection. The Khora collection is a nod to Uchida's tea rooms and contains the tea room where Adrian Cheng and Shigeru Uchida held their final design meeting together.  

The five pieces that make up the Khora collection were all inspired by the tranquility and purity of the natural environment. Conceptual images were shot in the beautiful scenery of the Japanese countryside. Scenes like a sea of snow white trees, vast and mysterious snow covered mountain tops and a tranquil lakeside.  A chair, a screen, a desk between Heaven and Earth, as if to say ‘go outside to find happiness within’. Materials for these pieces were bamboo and chestnut wood which was chosen for the unique texture of its grain and hand crafted by master artisan Chuzo Tasawa.  The spaces between the facade scatter flickering light between heaven and earth, creating a private space for meditation.  This space can enter into the mind and connect it with the natural world, creating a harmonious and balanced co-existence.  This is the philosophical conversation that the Khora collection wants to engage.

The Khora collection is the first piece of work of Adrian Cheng, and also the final work of Shigeru Uchida. It was the first time of crossover design in furnitures by Adrian Cheng who has multiple identities as businessman, and entrepreneur. 

We all know that you are highly engaged in commercial and art circles‭, ‬this is the first time you‮!&‬ve crossed over into furniture design‭, ‬why now‭?‬

Furniture is one of the most important puzzle pieces when designing a space‭. ‬It‮!&‬s your personal expression on style‭, ‬and living‭, ‬and it changes how you feel about‭ ‬‮!'‬home‮!(‬‭. ‬Furniture is also a personal object that you connect with on a daily basis‭. ‬I was very fortunate to have met Uchida-san and his team at the right time when both of us had the desire to create something exciting‭, ‬something ground-breaking in the form of furniture design‭.‬

How did the partnership come about‭?‬

I‮!&‬ve been fascinated with Uchida-san‮!&‬s furniture and interior design for some time‭. ‬With the Tea Rooms I thought he was really onto something sacred‭. ‬It‮!&‬s a stunning furniture series‭, ‬but more importantly it examines how design and furniture can alter one‮!&‬s perception of space and comfort‭, ‬how it encourages users to take a moment to appreciate the space that they‮!&‬re in‭. ‬

In 2015‭, ‬I had a chance to commission Uchida-san to design the interiors for one of our projects in Hong Kong‭, ‬so we began to talk and one thing led to another‭, ‬we were discussing about co-creating a series of artisanal furnishings that would re-explore the relationships between man and nature‭, ‬man and space‭, ‬and man and objects‭. ‬

Could you tell me about the relationship of this partnership‭?‬

It‮!&‬s a very organic partnership that started with simple sketches from both of us‭. ‬After a few rounds of design reviews‭, ‬our visions became aligned‭, ‬so Uchida and his team developed the renderings‭, ‬which led to prototyping‭. ‬Colours are warm and the materials‭ ‬predominantly Japanese chestnut‭ (‬used for its durability and natural resistance to insects and fungi‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬these pieces for designed to last for generations‭) ‬at this stage‭, ‬but we wanted an extra personal touch to the collection to pay tribute to artisanship‭.‬‭ ‬That‮!&‬s when we decided to favour joinery techniques over using lots of screws and bolts‭.‬

How did you get into design‭?‬

I think we‮!&‬re always designing and creating‭, ‬either in our head or in practice‭. ‬When I see good designs I try to reimagine ways of improving them‭, ‬and when I see great designs I try to analyse what makes them so great‭. ‬Thanks to my K11‭ ‬Art Foundation‭, ‬I also work very closely with a lot of talented artists and curators‭, ‬who never cease to inspire with their creativity‭. ‬My day-to-day work requires me to oversee a lot of designing‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬products‭, ‬buildings‭, ‬fashion‭, ‬interiors‭, ‬experiences‭, ‬jewellery etc‭.‬

What was the creative process and how long did it take to complete the collection‭?‬

Apart from reconnecting with nature‭, ‬another genesis was the Japanese tea ceremony‭, ‬a traditional‭, ‬spiritual practice that fascinated both me and Uchida-san‭. ‬This is often carried out in a dedicated space that calms the mind‭, ‬almost like a vessel for meditation‭. ‬We examined how the ritual and space would affect the mind‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬something Uchida-san explored with his Tea Rooms‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬and began to minimise it‭. ‬We were not as interested in creating plush furnishings‭, ‬as we are in designs that cleanse the mind‭, ‬so to speak‭. ‬That‮!&‬s when we decided to turn our focus to nature‭, ‬it boiled down creating distinctly shaped pieces and materials that were inspired‭ ‬by the stunning scenery of Japan‭.‬

How was working with Shigeru Uchida‭?‬

It was an honour to have worked alongside Uchida-san‭, ‬who was always very inspiring with his ideas‭. ‬Given his stature as an award-winning designer‭, ‬it was a very humbling experience

What about Chuzo Tozawa‭? ‬How did the partnership come about‭?‬

With Khora‭, ‬we‮!&‬re elevating furniture design‭, ‬and also celebrating craftsmanship‭. ‬Instead of a furniture manufacturer‭, ‬we wanted to partner with a true craftsman‭. ‬So we set out to search for such craftsman‭, ‬we even visited Gifu prefecture‭, ‬the area famous for its authentic‭, ‬millennia-old craftsmanship‭. ‬It was through Uchida‮!&‬s team we became acquainted with Chuzo Tozawa‭ (‬in Tokyo‭) ‬and his work‭. ‬Chuzo san is a man of low profile and he doesn‮!&‬t take on every project‭, ‬so it took some convincing‭. ‬However‭, ‬once our goals were aligned‭, ‬which is to create a true artisanal furniture collection that celebrates craftsmanship‭, ‬we found a lot of common grounds in our ideals‭.‬

What is the idea behind Khora/Wander From Within‭?‬

While a lot of modern furniture pieces are designed for the aesthetics and pure comfort‭, ‬we aim to go beyond that layer‭. ‬The collection title‭ ‬‮!'‬Khora‮!(‬‭ ‬is an ancient Greek word for a philosophical space between being and non-being‭, ‬physical and non-physical‭, ‬which is precisely what we‮!&‬re trying to create‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬furniture that‭, ‬through design‭, ‬bridges the physical and mental states‭. ‬In fact‭, ‬the working title of the‭ ‬series was The Mind Gear which‭, ‬to take literally‭, ‬means it aims to change one‮!&‬s mind set‭. ‬

With this collection we‮!&‬re also starting a cross-culture‭, ‬cross-industry dialogue‭, ‬which is always exciting‭. ‬In a way‭, ‬we wanted to draw the attention to functions of furniture design‭.‬

Edited by Joe Chow, Images from Tim Wong and Wander from Within