Introducing 8 Hour's Sherry Xu, the latest artisan to join our collective of outstanding homeware artisans. She founded the 8 Hour design studio in 2015, embracing modern silhouettes in unexpected ways. Her designs don't take life too seriously but are also rooted in the nostalgia for her home city, Shanghai. To better understand her creative mindset, we sat with her to explore her views on life, family and frustrations.
How would you define yourself?
Personally, I think it's hard to define yourself because there will be changes at every stage. Life is a process of growing up and continually looking. I hope to keep my curiosity and always see the world from a child's perspective with the gentle inner strength of an adult. I hope to find that balance.
What does that gentle inner strength of an adult entail?
I think as a woman, it's this kind of gentle and humble energy. A lot of people are trapped in their own belief, judgments or pride and fear of inferiority. They lose the ability to be kind. On top of that, it's a source of stability, no matter what kind of environment you are in. Mental strength is essential to me.
How does your identity affect your work?
I'm a designer, wife, and mum. It's a hard transition because you have to stay creative, but being both a mother and wife can sometimes lead to tedious repetition.
If you don't master it well, I think it will definitely affect your work. It certainly has an impact on my work, both in terms of mindset and time allocation. It just depends on how you adjust. On the plus side, speaking as a mother, it has given me more patience to do a lot of things. Before I had children, I wasn't a very patient person. My own mother would always say that I was over any task in three minutes. But the endurance and the patience that being a mother gives you is really beyond what you realise about yourself. A lot of times, I think, oh my god, I'm so patient.
Changing roles between mum and designer can be challenging because the pace and mindset are entirely different. But being a mum has made me a far more adaptable person, mainly because you're the only one responsible. It definitely spurs on some personal growth. And in the process of your child's development, you will experience new beginnings of life. Something that would have dominated your mind before kids will feel trivial once you're looking after another human. It made me realise that life is full of possibilities, making me want to create something better continually. My mother thinks I want to create more beauty in my works because I want my baby to see the world is beautiful, which I agree with.
Outside of design, what's something you're looking to achieve?
I wouldn't describe myself as a results-oriented person, and I'm actually terrified of people asking me what my goals are! Whenever my teachers would ask me what I wanted to do, I never knew how to respond.
This is really difficult for me to answer. In the grande scheme of things, my goal in life is to reach the end of it and face death with a smile on my face. Leaving this earth peacefully is a real blessing. In general, I try not to focus on the bigger picture but on the little moments that make life special to me. As they say, it's the journey, not the destination that matters.
Does the idea of death not scare you?
I'm a Christian, so death for me is the concept of going home. So from my point of view, I'm just a guest here. Death will be like entering a new world. Now I'm on this journey, so I should try to enjoy it and hope that I had a good life, felt happy and became a better person from when I started. I don't see it as an ending, but an advancement.
Who inspired you most when you were growing up?
My grandfather has a significant influence on me still to this day. He's a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. I distinctly remember when I was young, he would encourage me to write calligraphy. In his spare time, he would do carpentry by himself. There are several chairs in my home now that my grandfather made at that time.
At the time, I didn't define it as something to do with design or creativity, I just thought it was a way of life for my grandfather, but I believe that planted the seed in my head that if you have a design concept, you could make it come to life with only your hands.
What do you want to express most in your work?
The ideas we have are often quite abstract, which are then transformed into a concrete process. We're forever tinkering with how we concisely convey a message. For example, the Bullet Time Side Table, when we crafted it, we wanted to express the fleeting concept of time. Time is a thing that is continually passing. However, it's also relative and can warp in moments of intensity, sorrow or passion. That's the kind of complex emotions that we try to communicate in simple shapes and forms.
Do you have a particular place where you go to seek inspiration?
It might be a natural environment for me. It just makes me relax and calm down. I am a person who likes to travel in nature because a change of scenery can set you free. The world itself, including a lot of design, a lot of art, is actually going back to a state that mimics nature.
I've found that art has two extremes, one that worships nature, the other that worships the human body. I feel like a lot of us end up going back to these two points. Eventually, my own work will likely reflect nature more heavily.
On the topic of nature, how environmentally conscious is your furniture?
Environmental protection is a subject that we have been trying hard to push further. For example, we have a table that we make out of recycled rubber. We have many conceptual products that have yet to be released that are heavily related to environmental protection.
We do have a tea table called "Jellyfish," that we created three or four years ago to express our desire to protect the ocean. Because, as you may know, there's a lot of plastic floating around in the sea, our exploratory approach was to take plastic from the ocean and reprocess it and make it into a tabletop. The final execution of this idea was never finalised, though, because the process of trying to press the plastic, the material layout, its bearing capacity and area were limited in the end. But we will continue to try and explore the realm of recycled materials in the future. I am holding on to the idea that they can be used in our products on a bigger scale.
Shanghai seems to inspire a lot of your work; why is that?
Shanghai gives me the feeling that anything is possible. I was born and raised in Shanghai, so my view of the city is not of someone travelling or has lived here for 15 years. It's my whole life. Outsiders may focus on seeing newer things in Shanghai. But for me, there is something about the old culture in Shanghai that attracts me.
There is this major collision of old culture and new culture, so when it comes to design, I do harbour that little bit of this nostalgia, but in a very subtle way. Because it is very different from the cities in Europe, which may stay the same throughout different generations. But Shanghai, you're like, oh my god, I blinked and what is this place? This constant change has instilled in me the guts always to try something new.
Your brand focuses on compartmentalising time better; do you truly separate life and work?
It's always a work in progress, but I'm getting the hang of it. Now that we're all so connected continuously, it is challenging to cut ties, and there are a lot of times that the two worlds collide. I'm a relatively dedicated person, so I sometimes work from home. My kids will know when they see me in that mode not to disturb me, but that also means that the time I play with my kids, I'm totally focused on that.
More so than ever, I consciously stop myself from looking at my phone. I think the amount of information you take in just doesn't stop. I prefer to have my own time to focus and hone in on what I'm doing. But when it comes to time, work or life is more important than the other. They deserve equal attention because your career is also a part of your journey at the end of the day. It's worthy of your love too.
What frustrates you most about your industry?
The frustration is multifaceted because, at first, you just want to focus purely on design. Still, over time you realise that in this environment, it's not just about design. China's design industry is moving at a frantic speed, Which may seem like a good thing, but you find that in such a fast-developing environment, it is easy for people to ignore the design itself and to focus on how to grow the business. Within all this noise, you have to decide whether you want to go with the rhythm or break the cycle. So there is some frustration in this regard.
It seems clear which path you've chosen, but in 10 years, where do you want your brand to be?
A little more mature, but more importantly, still curious and creative.
I try not to focus on the bigger picture but on the little moments that make life special to me. As they say, its the journey, not the destination.