Design, among other things, is increasingly part of our daily lives. Having said that, it has been a while since Nicely Made in China (NMiC) presented a designer. So, this week NMiC is happy to introduce Hong Kong-based American architect-designer Sean Dix. After years spent in Fiji, Micronesia and the Philippines (in his youth) and later, many years spent working in Europe (Milan), Sean decided that Asia was the place to be. In 2008 he landed at Chek Lap Kok with family in tow. He recently spoke with NMiC, discussing his influences and what it is like to work in this part of the world.
Sean, what led you to architecture and design?
It’s in my blood. It’s a cliche but as a kid I did play a lot with construction toys. Later I studied sculpture and architecture and I put the two together. And I have always been obsessive about details. I like to control every single detail in what I design.
What attracted you to Asia? And why Hong Kong rather than Shanghai for instance?
After 15 years in Italy -in Milan- I wanted to make a big move. Two years ago I decided that Asia was the place to be for work-related as well as cultural reasons. In Asia I have a lot to discover culturally speaking which I think is a big plus for my work. I chose Hong Kong rather than Shanghai because I already had contacts here. Importantly, I also had work lined-up through the luxury fashion brands I have worked with for many years (designing their stores). What’s more, the furniture makers I work with are all based in Guangdong. I visit them on average twice a week, so it made sense to be in Hong Kong.
Which designers would you say had the most influence on your work?
The Italian designers Gio Ponti and Achille Castiglioni, the Americans Charles Eames and George Nelson, and also Finn Juhl, a Danish designer are definitely the ones who influence me most. But I think that any good designer has a cultural anthropologist buried inside. It is a great thing to have lived around the world like I have. It gives me fresh eyes to look at things.
What kind of material do you like to use for your furniture?
All the furniture I design is exclusively made of American hardwood – walnut, ash or oak. The quality of American hardwood is very consistent and strangely enough American hardwood is often cheaper than its Chinese counterpart. For the metal parts I like stainless steel and powder coated steel. All good and honest products.
You mentioned that you work with different factories in Guangdong. What kind of partners are they – do they offer you the kind of expertise you were accustomed to in Italy?
They’re excellent partners. I like working with Chinese people very much. The work ethic that I find here is something I share completely. Work is in their blood – they’re not afraid of rolling up their sleeves and working hard. Regarding the expertise, there is still a gap in experience. In Italy you work with people who’ve been doing the same thing for generations. In China it is rarely the case. But this is compensated for by the fact that Chinese are fast learners and also that I bring a lot of experience in furniture making that I am happy to share. There is also a question of these factories being able to afford sophisticated machines, which given time, they will.
Do you think Chinese consumers are ready for the type of furniture you design?
The market in China for contemporary furniture is quite a new market. Right now there is certainly a big market for original and nicely designed furniture, honestly priced – let’s say between HK$ 10,000 and 20,000 for a sofa, and scaled for urban living, rather than luxury foreign brands which can cost up to 10 times more.
How many people work in your studio?
4 people work with me. They come from Argentina, Italy and of course from Hong Kong. I need flexible people who can design a chair one day and a store the next day.
Where can NMiC readers buy your products?
In Beijing our products can be found at
Chaoyang Park (朝阳公园
3/F, China Central Place, 6 Xidawang Lu, Chaoyang District (朝阳区朝阳区西大望路6号华贸中心商场东区3层)
+86 10 8588 8599
Tel: +852 2858 4898