Reinventing Age-Old Crafts in Southeast Asia

Around the region, designers are drawing on tradition to create works fit for the 21st century.

Photo courtesy of 56thStudio

Saran Yen Panya

Thai designer Saran Yen Panya’s oeuvre is an exploration of cultural contrasts. Whether it’s a collaboration with a century-old prayer pillow workshop in Bangkok’s Chinatown to create contemporary takes on metal street-food stools, or designing cheeky patterns for a collection of Benjarong (traditional Thai porcelain) tableware, he matches kitsch with cool, the high-end with the mundane. A recent addition to his repertoire is OMT (short for One More Thing), a textile-driven brand with a showroom in Charoenkrung, Bangkok’s de facto design district. OMT’s first collection, Swear Like Thai Spirit, consists of tote bags and holdalls with kaleidoscopic motifs created with a jacquard weaving technique and inspired by tilework and patterns found around Bangkok’s historic Old Town area.


Photo courtesy of Hans Tan

Hans Tan

The work of this Singaporean designer blurs the lines between art, craft, and design. Using dead-stock Chinese and Peranakan porcelain as his canvas, Hans Tan explores themes such as sustainability and Asian heritage through processes that breathe new life into otherwise unfashionable ceramics. In his Spotted Nyonya series, for example, he masked porcelain teapots with round stickers before sand- blasting them to create a funky polka dot pattern, while a different blasting method was used for his Sarong Party collection (pictured here) to emboss vases with batik designs.


Photo courtesy of AlvinT

Alvin Tjitrowirjo

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of natural rattan, and inexpensive furniture made from the vine-like plant is, unsurprisingly, ubiquitous across the archipelago. But not all rattan designs are created equal; Jakarta-based product designer Alvin Tjitrowirjo, for one, elevates and reinterprets the humble material under his eponymous alvinT label. Working with local artisans, he explores rattan’s versatility by dyeing it with color injections, bending it into unconventional shapes, or combining woven rattan panels with luxe materials like leather and marble.

A lacquered vase, tea box, and rectangular tray form Hanoia’s Red River collection. (Photo: Hanoia)


After being introduced to Vietnam from China centuries ago, lacquer painting evolved into a nationally treasured craft. And though mass-produced imitations are rife these days, haute lacquer house Hanoia keeps the tradition alive by applying the technique to high-end home decor and contemporary jewelry. Combined with brass, Hanoia’s lines of bracelets and earrings are inspired by the intricate window grilles found around the country or natural phenomena like solar eclipses.

This article originally appeared in the December 2020/February 2021 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“In with the Old”).

Share this Article

Related Posts

Shop Some of Hong Kong’s Coolest Local Designers at The Mills

Hong Kong’s design talent and manufacturing history come to the fore in an ambitious industrial co...

5 Art-Inspired Hotels to Satisfy Your Inner Picasso

Immerse yourself in art installations, designer rooms, and well-sculpted spaces.

10 Local Designers in Bangkok Worth Shopping at

Forget elephant key-chains and fridge magnets—Thailand’s capital has an exciting retail scene an...

Don’t Miss the UAE’s Inaugural Sharjah Architecture Triennial

Under the theme “Rights of Future Generations,” it questions fundamental ideas of architecture a...

5 Cool Bangkok-based Design Studios to Know Now

Using new interpretations of age-old techniques, these Bangkok-based design studios are giving Thai ...

Hong Kong’s Most Stylish Homegrown Brands

If you’re traveling to Hong Kong, indulge in serious retail therapy and get your hands on some of ...