Sasha Young, the founder of Wright & Smith, talks about her journey towards establishing an online artisanal store and her relentless search for unique offerings.
A former stock broker turned interior designer, Sasha Young was working on a home project some years back when she chanced upon the ceramicist who made her grandparents’ wedding china over 70 years ago. The encounter, along with her grandparents’ love story, inspired her to establish Wright & Smith - a curated online space for selling artisanal decor items and furniture, as well as pairing (globally) consumers looking for bespoke pieces with the right craftsmen.
Is the Wright & Smith curation representative of your personal style?
Yes. The experiences of being from a mixed Chinese and English family, and having lived in Singapore and Hong Kong, have definitely informed my design eye. The shop houses, the handcrafted and tactile nature of British design, and simple, traditional Chinese elmwood furniture are part of Wright & Smith. I choose everything that goes on the site. But is it reflective of the realities of my personal life? Well, I’m a mother with three children! My house does not look like a Wright & Smith showroom (laughs).
You put a lot of emphasis on the whos and hows of furniture. Why is this important?
Because an informed consumer will always feel happier about what he or she has. When they can truly understand the value of the product and the creative energy put into it – not of one person’s but entire generations’ worth of knowledge – they treasure it and are happy with what they’ve paid for. It’s fair to both the consumer and producer of the goods.
THE LOVE STORY
The beginnings of Wright & Smith can be traced to the love story of George Arliss, a British navy officer who ended up in Hong Kong, and Ada Yip, the daughter of a Canton merchant. During their wedding in 1941, they were gifted a handpainted green china dinner service with real gold highlights and an intricate dragon motif.
Fast-forward to the 2000s: Grand daughter Sasha Young, then an interior designer living in Hong Kong, is close friends with the ceramicists of Yuet Tung China Works. Looking through the company’s archives one day, she chanced upon a picture of a familiar green plate – it was the wedding china of her grandparents.
“All those years, I had no idea there was a family connection. The ceramicist behind it and owner of Yuet Tung, Mr Tso, still comes to the ceramic workshop every day,” says Sasha.
What a heart warming coincidence, especially considering that only one of those plates had survived the war that tore the couple apart. George had been captured and taken to a prisoner-ofwar camp by the Japanese, while Ada remained in her country. It was only three years later that they reunited on the docks of Hong Kong.
“Having this moving story to tell, about meeting across borders without prejudice, and that design can tie people across generations, inspired the setting up of Wright & Smith. I want to share the stories of other artisans, too,” says Sasha.
Keren Zhang cuts each feather to size by hand, before laying them in concentric patterns.
Wright & Smith worked with young Chinese designer Monica Tsang to come up with the blue 5 Blessings Dinner Service, which is inspired by George and Ada’s collection.
Yuet Tung China Works has produced porcelain pieces for almost 100 years. Customers include hotels, department stores and even Hollywood celebrities.
OPPOSITE LEFT & RIGHT
Joseph Tso, the son of the porcelain maker who designed and painted Sasha’s grandparents’ wedding china, runs the company with a team of four skilled painters.
Is this the new form of luxury?
Luxury was names and brands. Luxury, now, is beyond the brand and more about authenticity. It’s personal, curious and passionate. Having your story personally reflected in a bespoke piece that was made by people you appreciate and methods you get to experience – that is true luxury.
Who are some designers that reflect the Wright & Smith vision?
Every workshop or designer we work with has made a meaningful difference to people’s lives. Keren Zhang is a Chinese designer who created a stunning tea set inlaid with handmade feathers, inspired by the lost art of “dotting with kingfishers” that was popular during ancient China. He not only elevated it by using handmade feathers – the feather-plucking was inhumane – he decided to explore his Chinese roots in an industry that pressures young designers to be primarily commercially viable and “new” all the time.
Fine Cell Work is a rehabilitative stitching programme in the UK. It involves teaching prison inmates how to stitch and sew, helping them find a sense of self-worth and pride in learning a skill, so they can pursue a life away from crime. And there’s Elaine Ng/with Un/ Fold Guizhou, who is helping villagers bring their ancient dyeing methods alive and into the 21st century. The daughters of the village, who were uninterested and left home, are coming back to say, “Can I learn this, too?”
Of course, there’s John Born from Humble Matter, who left his advertising job in his 40s to teach himself pottery. Fendi Casa featured his ceramics in a campaign, within two years of his setting up; he has an incredible aesthetic. What a great example for us all.
Which Wright & Smith item would you want?
A collaborative piece, made by one of our workshops, but with textiles from another. Actually, I’ve already started talking to them about it!
Customisable cushion covers, such as the Gunda (left), are made by skilled artisans in India.
The cotton fabric of The Orient Screen by Un/ Fold Guizhou was treated with a red bean paste. The cotton is infused with sugar, resulting in a glossy, semirepellent finish.
Pottery from Brooklyn-based artist John Born.
The Sibast No. 8 chair, by Sibast Furniture, features an iconic Y-shaped leg design.
text ELIZA HAMIZAH photos WRIGHT & SMITH