Stellar Works: Timeless Asian Artistry
Connected Design: Please tell Connected Design’s readers about your company, Stellar Works.
Yuichiro Hori: We are a Japanese-French partnership with the luxury furniture manufacturer Laval. Laval is one of the oldest and best-known factories in France, with a 120-year family history. They manufacture for high-end furniture brands and work for bespoke custom projects. Operations for the partnership began in 2008; that was the starting point of “Made in Shanghai.”
We decided to establish a factory there, because we do a lot of work with the hospitality sector, and we needed certain capabilities to fulfill those manufacturing needs. Also, we had researched and learned that in Asia, it’s easier to find quality workers and materials – and we found China to be amazing.
We found 25-year-old craftspeople there who grew up in small villages and had already gained many years of woodworking experience within their families. Through experience, they have highly developed their sense of touch, for example, and they can tell the moisture content of wood by just the feel of it. They can make furniture perfectly, and of excellent quality, just from looking at a sample.
It is not done with a mass-production mentality; workers with such craftsmanship skills really care about the final product. So with Laval, we decided to set up a factory in more of a “tailor-made” style, using Asian traditions and crafts, with these younger workers, in Shanghai, which is a great place for living, as well. And that’s where our headquarters are.
Our business, however, is global. About 30 percent is done in Europe, 30 percent in North America, and 30 percent in Asia and Australia, with 10 percent in other regions.
We do both retail and contract manufacturing. On the contract side, we work with many hotels and on corporate projects – such as Microsoft, Dropbox, Starbucks, WeWork, and most of the luxury hotels.
Whereas the factory, which launched in 2008 is called Furniture Labo, the Stellar Works brand itself launched in 2012. We’re growing fast. Our sales were up more than 230 percent in 2017 versus 2016. We’re proud to say we are the first international brand manufactured in Asia, versus mass production or OEM production done there. We’ve also hired as creative director the firm Neri & Hu.
This year, our catalog features a “Shanghai streets” theme in the imagery, which is in line with Chinese culture. It carries through with the Asian sensibility of the furniture. But we don’t just have contemporary and future-forward designs. We also feature vintage collections from the 1950s and ’60s.
How does Stellar Works view “smart” technologies - which many luxury homeowners are now asking builders and architects to include in their home designs? How does that trend fit in with Stellar works’ business model?
Hori: The furniture business is about touching and feeling. On the sales side, when customers need to see materials, we can show them online and on a smartphone, but still I want them to see the physical product and check the comfort, color and feel.
Because furniture is not virtual. When you will be sitting on a sofa and chair for many hours, comfort and feel are important.
What influences do you see on design from new technologies that are entering the market and that are becoming quickly familiar to consumers?
Hori: We need to think about that. This industry is growing so fast. People in Asia are getting rid of wallets and are using smartwatch and smartphone technology for buying items, ordering food, and almost everything. We can sell furniture this way, but we believe that customers need to be able to try furniture. So, we have 85 sales points – showrooms – worldwide, including trade showrooms.
Putting USB chargers into chairs? Is that next?
Hori: That’s a good question. On the hospitality side, we’re thinking about that. For example, in guest rooms, TV monitors maybe can be put into tabletops. We can do that easily, but for now, it’s only on a project basis.
In hotels in Shanghai designed with future concepts, they have things like holograms of virtual general managers welcoming people into guest rooms. And in some rooms you could set up a beach atmosphere with sounds and smells. Of course, this experience is virtual. But it needs to be balanced. People still need to see and touch the physical.
What are you thinking about, for the future?
Hori: On the contract side, there are lots of opportunities. For example, Amazon Echo-type functionality – it can be installed in furniture easily. Also, a small component can be installed in a tabletop, making the whole tabletop the speaker. That’s interesting technology, and it limits the sound to only the people sitting at the table.
Also, for places like hotels, there is more and more application of smart technologies, and usage is always changing. For example, in hotel fitness clubs, we did some research and found that only a small percentage are using these clubs. But with just a small space in the room, it’s possible to create a “private fitness” area. And if a guest wants to invest a little more for that type of room, they can enjoy a private fitness club.
As usage changes, we can bring value to the hotel in this way – and if it is promoted, many people may want to choose that hotel.
How can technology, which all homeowners are now living with, live in aesthetic harmony with high-level design?
Hori: On the residential side, we are intentionally not pursuing that way, because we would end up by having to chase technology, since a few years later, the technology always gets old.
We want people to use our furniture forever. Furniture, we feel, must be timeless.