Claudia Davaar Lambie uncovers the true beauty of nature in finely crafted homewares. Photos by Vinh Dao.
After living in the London rat race for three years, Vy Huynh, 29, moved back to Ho Chi Minh City. She wanted to move from her background in economics into a new field, one on the more creative side. After a chance encounter with the owner, Doan Minh Phuong, Huynh took on the role as business development manager at Authentique, which sells ceramics, furniture and textiles.
Phuong founded the company in 1995. Her passion for homeware and interior design stemmed from seeing her grandfather work as a highly skilled carpenter in Hoi An. Authentique has three workshops located in the Thu Duc district of the city: Cam Kim carpentry, Cam Ha potteries and Cam Giang textiles, where there are around 50 artisans employed all together. Phuong’s brother Doan Thanh Nghia is the chief designer who focuses on the technical aspects of the business; namely furniture design and sculpting the clay in the kiln (a furnace designed to bake the clay).
The prospect of working with fine handcrafted homewares excited Huynh. “I got carried away with Minh Phuong’s philosophy,” she says. For Phuong, her way of thinking in terms of the design process is simple. Importantly, it is influenced by Japanese aesthetics called Wabi-Sabi. This particular philosophical mindset is based on the pureness of nature, in all of its wonderful forms. Wabi-Sabi seeps into the design of each product.
“When creating a product, we need to look at nature in the way that it is; its beauty and its imperfections,” explains Huynh, emphasising that this approach to creativity influenced the naming of the company. “You will never find the exact same design on any item here.”
Vietnam’s affinity with ceramics dates back to the 15th to the 17th centuries, Bat Trang Village in the Gia Lam district of Hanoi was the heart of ceramic production in Vietnam. It still operates today, doubling as a pottery village and a tourist attraction, however Huynh believes commercialisation has tamed its artistic spirit; something which, she says, Authentique has remedied. “In tourist shops, the designs are very uniform, it’s the trap of handcrafts.”
Phuong may give the artisans a subject to inspire the designs; this season it was chrysanthemums. Upon first glance, the flowers on the vases, teapots and bowls appear to be the same on each product. However, a closer inspection reveals that every chrysanthemum is different, be it a shadow catching the flower at a certain angle, the reflection of the sun, or even a wilted leaf. At work, the artisan meticulously copies the flower just as it moves in nature.
A variety of different types of wood are used such as oak, sandalwood and honeywood to make the furniture. A solid dining table with chairs and a bookcase feature on the first floor of the shop, which serves as the showroom. Cleverly, no nails are used in the production process of the group’s furniture. Instead, wood joints are crafted so that the pieces can lock in together tightly. Again, the Wabi-Sabi philosophy prevails. “If you use nails, it can damage and kill the wood grains. [The wood] needs to be able to age and breathe,” explains Huynh.
At Authentique, the clay is not bleached, the wood is not varnished and the textiles are made from natural fibres like wild cotton. The way that the Japanese treasure their objects in the home is admired by Phuong. The belief that any object in a house – a bowl, a chair or a tapestry – has a living soul which stands the test of time and is passed down through generations, makes Huynh smile. She picks up a vase and traces the daisy that has been carefully painted so it looks like an imprint. “Doan embraces and encourages this way of thinking and wants people to see, really see, what is around them,” she says.