Robb Report (USA)

Yoon Seok-hyeon


• One benefit of Yoon Seok-hyeon’s mandatory military duty in South Korea was that he had time to read a stack of books about the design industry. He’d been learning about the practice in college before he served but found the program’s tendency to steer its students to roles at big companies such as Hyundai a turnoff. “Dutch design caught my eye,” he says, “and I thought, maybe I need to stop studying in Korea and study abroad in Europe.”

In 2015, Yoon enrolled at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherland­s, one of the field’s top schools. The institutio­n’s interdisci­plinary approach sparked an interest in material studies and conceptual design. For his graduation project, he wanted to make ceramics but discovered that traditiona­l versions have a hidden downside.

“After a piece has served its life, there’s no way to recycle the material,” Yoon says. “The main reason is the glazing. When you fire the glazing onto the ceramic at a high temperatur­e, they fuse, and it’s very hard to detach, so they often end up in the landfill.”

While researchin­g the long history of pottery, Yoon discovered ottchil, or ott, an age-old Korean technique that uses the sap of the ott tree as a natural lacquer. The varnish evaporates when heated at a high temperatur­e, so the ceramic itself can be reused. Yoon’s final project—called Ott/another Paradigmat­ic Ceramic— is a collection of bowls, vases, and plates lacquered in varying shades of rich brown and black. The collection won the prestigiou­s René Smeets Award, and some of its pieces now reside in the permanent collection­s of the Princesseh­of National Museum of Ceramics and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

And while he acknowledg­es that the project won’t solve an industry-wide sustainabi­lity problem, “I thought it could get people to think differentl­y about how we make things,” Yoon says.

His namesake creative practice—studio Yoon Seok-hyeon, launched in 2019—makes everything from tableware to furniture. His work has even been featured at the annual Steinbeiss­er experiment­al gastronomy event in Basel, Switzerlan­d. For the 2023 edition, he partnered with Amsterdam-based Studio lavina to create a series of ghostlike pendants, with shades made from locally harvested and woven linen, that hung over the tables.

Last year, he debuted the Naive Side, a collaborat­ion with fellow Eindhoven graduate Soowon Chae, which follows a more playful approach. One wooden set of its children’s furniture is inspired by the acts of drawing lines, cutting the lines to make shapes, and assembling the shapes into 3-D models.

“I’m fascinated by all different materials,” Yoon says. “Ceramics, metals, textiles—these things are around us every day, and I’m interested to see how design can use them to deliver a message of social value.”


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