Nicely Made in China today presents a non-traditional furniture designer: Marianne Friese, owner and designer of Malilian. German by birth Marianne arrived in China in 2001. Since 1988 she has been leading two lives: consultant and communications specialist 12 hours a day she turns into a sofa designer the other 12. NMiC caught her in the sweltering warehouse of the Beijing master upholsterer she works with where she was checking the quality of her latest creations before delivering them personally to their new homes.
Marianne, how did this all begin?
My first sofa was made in 1988 in Los Angeles where I was living. I wanted to buy one for my home and could not find anything I liked. A friend introduced me to a Mexican furniture maker who accepted to make a sofa for me following my own design and specifications. That’s how it all started. The sofa then followed me from California Germany and later to China and is now sitting in my Jianwai Soho office. I have never stopped designing soft furniture – sofas and armchairs – since.
How do you create your pieces?
It is a never-ending three-part process: First I collect materials whenever I travel. I always save a couple of days for researching materials on markets or wherever I find myself. I love to touch and feel different materials: felt from Mongolia, rabbit fur, guinea fowl feathers, camel hair etc… I am a very tactile person. I usually buy 3 times as much as I really need so I always have a wide variety of textile and bits and pieces at hand.
Secondly, I come up with an idea for a piece or a customer places an order – each piece I create is unique -. When I work on a piece for a specific customer I meet with the person in her home and ask her to describe the usage and what she’d like to do on it or with it or in it. I think that the connectivity to the room where the piece of furniture will be is important. Then the person describes what type of material they like – silk, fur, felt maybe – and what kind of color or pattern they would like. The third part is scouting with an idea already in mind for more cloth and materials. My creations today are a total mix of Californian, Mexican, European and of course since I am in China, Asian influences. The German input is felt in the production process: everything is made as well as it possibly can -the Chinese upholsterers I work with are excellent- and also in the robustness and comfort of the sofas and armchairs.
It seems that you have a very personal relationship with your clients. Can you tell NMiC readers a little bit more about this side of your business?
Yes, I end up knowing them rather well after all these discussions on what they like and what they don’t like. I want them to have an active part in the creative process and even though they have only a vague idea of what the piece will look like in the end, it is a journey that so far, people have enjoyed making. I actually say that my sofas and armchairs have found a new home.
Do you have a story you could share with us?
A few years ago an Australian family commissioned me to design and produce sofa covers for an existing set they had. They wanted it family / children friendly. So I brought back from Bali a beautiful design made using the ikat technique, a complex pattern weaving technique which involves dyeing the threads in sequences for a specific pattern before they are woven. I visited this family at home and realized that the first thing you’d see as you entering the living room would be the back of the sofa. So what I did is that I lined the cover with a thick piping on the top and with the big paper clips to hold the children’s drawings I turned the back of the sofa into a gallery wall- at the children’s eye level -for everyone to see.
How long does it take from the first sketch to delivery and how much does it cost to have a custom piece made?
It takes between 3 to 6 weeks and prices start at 19,000 rmb (US$ 2804 / € 2215 / £ 1856 / AU$ 3218 – July 9th’10) + cost of shipping + customs tax + tax when and where it applies.
Where can NMiC readers order?
Marianne Friese: +86 137 01101406
On the website you can also buy pieces which I created with no specific customer in mind, all unique of course.
NMiC wishes to thank the photographer Hans Schlupp for letting us use his pictures.