When Mario Tsai is not on the road for fairs or factory visits, he spends most of his time in his studio in a suburb of Hangzhou, just a two-hour drive south-west of Shanghai. ‘I found space and serenity here to do my work, while maintaining reasonable proximity to the city,’ he says. Tsai was born in Hubei, central China, and there was not much in his early years to suggest that he might become one of the country’s most promising designers. ‘I had a very simple countryside childhood,’ he recalls, ‘but I remember a scene on television of an architect walking down the road holding rolled blueprints; I was mesmerised.’
In the early 2010s, he says, the concept of ‘independent designers’ was virtually unknown in China, yet ‘there were a lot of furniture companies in Shenzhen and Dongguan serving the overheated real-estate market, and there was a great demand for novelty.’ His first job, after graduating from Beijing Forestry University’s College of Materials Science and Technology, was at one of those enormous enterprises churning out furniture for the mass property market; but instead of designing, he was tasked with engineering the products and their corresponding manufacturing processes, and with producing technical drawings so detailed and lucid that all factory workers, trained or not, could make sense of them. He did not appreciate quite how formative this experience would be to his future career until he set up his own studio in 2014.
‘My time spent working at factories taught me how to execute ideas with the least amount of material to achieve maximal results’
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