Luca Nichetto & Richard Hutten: Forces Behind the First Designer Furniture Brand ZaoZuo in China

Designers behind the brand ZaoZuo: Luca Nichetto and Richard Hutten. Photo: CoBo Social
Shu Wei, Founder of ZaoZuo. Image Courtesy of ZaoZuo
Richard Hutten with his design for ZaoZuo, Rosefinch Series
Luca Nichetto and his design for ZaoZuo, Grid Zodiac
ZaoZuo’s Fuge cabinet by Note Design Studio
The creative team of ZaoZuo. From left to right: Shu Wei, Richard Hutten, NOTE Design Studio, Luca Nichetto and Constance Guisset

Beijing Design Week 2016 marks a new height for ZaoZuo(造作), China’s very first designer furniture brand. ZaoZuo’s name is synonymous with “design and production” in Chinese and its product launch during design week featured a number of renowned international designers, including Luca Nichetto from Italy, Constance Guisset from France, Note Design Studio from Sweden and Richard Hutten from The Netherlands, as well as a series of mind-blowing design activities, forums and installations.

TEXT: Elise Yau
IMAGES: Courtesy of ZaoZuo

Designers behind the brand ZaoZuo: Luca Nichetto and Richard Hutten
Designers behind the brand ZaoZuo: Luca Nichetto and Richard Hutten. Photo: CoBo Social


After the company has achieved so much, it is difficult to believe that ZaoZuo’s first store opened in Beijing this summer. With prices as affordable as IKEA, ZaoZuo has made its name with both attention to detail and the sophisticated furnishings that are evident in each design. This is largely thanks to the creative direction of Luca Nichetto, who is now the brand’s Creative Director.

“In future, a visit to a ZaoZuo store will be like a pilgrimage for design lovers, like going to the MUJI store in the 90s,” Luca said about his mission to make ZaoZuo a lifestyle brand. It may not be a dream for much longer, as everything is possible in China.

CoBo speaks with Luca Nichetto and Richard Hutten about their exciting collaboration.



How did these international designers come together for ZaoZuo in the first place?

Luca: I was receiving a lot of emails from Chinese brands but never really paid any attention to them, but luckily I had the time to read a very well-written email from Shu Wei(舒為), who is the founder of ZaoZuo. She explained her background, why she returned to China and what she wanted to do. I found the topics she touched on very interesting. She was a young Chinese person who had graduated overseas, at Stamford, with experience in the online industry and had previously been a graphic designer with her own agency. She came back to China realising that there were new young, middle class people who wanted a more design-oriented environment. I set up a Skype meeting and we talked. I had a very good gut feeling about working with her, and I always trust my gut about these things.


Founder of ZaoZuo, Shu Wei. Image Courtesy of ZaoZuo
Shu Wei, Founder of ZaoZuo. Image Courtesy of ZaoZuo


I started to work as a designer for ZaoZuo and helped Shu Wei to understand our world in Europe. Then she asked me to become Creative Director, and I set about producing affordable, good quality products in China. I started to understand what would work and what would not, and tried to combine the brief with what we were giving to different designers. I started to think who could be a good team of designers and who could do something for the brand.

I am always thinking… I am not perfect because I’m Italian and come from a culture of design where the art director designs almost everything for a company like Missoni, but I truly believe that the teamwork here, with all the different personalities coming from different cultures, can make a fantastic melting pot, especially as this new start-up comes from China.

So I decided to contact people who have the skills to understand the industry and a strong personality that could help the collection to be very, very interesting, including Richard and Note Design Studio, as well as Constance Guisset and other designers. This is an international team, more or less, and each of us is from a different country. We have known each other for so long and all of the designers involved are very talented. We are different, but I think the combination our talents can be very interesting and will help the brand to grow.

I have also been giving advice from a designer’s perspective on how to set up something as a new company. I am very impressed with what we’ve been able to achieve in one year. Of course, there is still a lot more to do, but I truly believe that we can have a big impact on this market.


Richard Hutten with his design for ZaoZuo
Richard Hutten with his design for ZaoZuo, Rosefinch Series


Richard: Like Luca, I also get a lot of emails from China, including ZaoZuo’s email. I didn’t reply to it, but then Luca gave me a call and said, “You really have to work with these people, they are really good,” and as he is my friend, I trust him.

(Luca: If something went wrong, he would kill me.)

Yes, then I could blame him. I am really happy that Luca is the creative director because he can push things and lift it to the next level. He can really make it a high-end brand, but at the right price level. I see that ZaoZuo has big potential over here in China, so this is really exciting.


How much was catering to the Chinese market a concern during your design process?

Richard: I live in a house that is 500 square meters in size, so space is not really an issue for me. But I understand that the average apartment here is maybe 80 square meters. I think space is like heating, it has to be compact and useful in the relatively small houses that people live in. So that was an issue that I dealt with, as well as how people can use space in different ways.

Luca: I always say that what people want in China is not so different from what we want in Europe. We want a bed, a kitchen and a sofa. The scale changes, of course, but the habits we have are not so different. I truly believe we are living in a much more global world and I can see how this is changing rapidly. I don’t think a foreign designer’s approach should be just focused on the local market, there should be the ambition to explore outside of China.

I am an Italian designer, but I live in Stockholm and I work in many different places. My approach is always to think how people are living and what they are using. Our role is to push things to the next level. So, if the people come up to me and say, “Ah, but our kitchen is in a separate room and it needs to be done in that way”, I say, “Fine, I understand that, but the kitchen could also be done this way.” So, you don’t need to keep on doing exactly the same things that you have been doing for the last 40 years. You can also evolve, and our work is to help people to evolve a bit.


Luca Nichetto and his design for ZaoZuo, Grid Zodiac
Luca Nichetto and his design for ZaoZuo, Grid Zodiac


When I visited the ZaoZuo store I could have easily mistaken it as a Scandinavian brand because of the human touch, minimal design and quality I found. How did you strike a balance between affordability and quality?

Luca: I think there are many ways to answer that. There is the production side, which I consider as quantity. If you order 10,000 chairs, each chair costs less than if you order 100. So that is the first thing. If the target is to touch the masses, then you need to consider what you are doing in terms of design. Secondly, I really like to design things without considering their monetary value at all, but to instead think about how people perceive the value of the products. If you are able to create something that costs $12, but the perception is $100, you will attract even more people to spend money. So, I think that the value and perception of a product are the two most important things.

Richard: All of the designers have strong design identities and we design products with a lot of identity. This creates the value because we have designed products that people want to have, to relate to and be surrounded by. That gives strength to this new brand.


I visited the Nichetto=Nendo project at Milan Design Week some years ago, which you did with the Japanese designer Nendo. This demonstrated the power of creative dialogue. How would you describe the collaboration this time with ZaoZuo’s designers, and how has that affected the final product?

Luca: I am very respectful of the work that my other colleagues do in this project, so I am not going to tell them to change something, the legs of a product, or anything like that. So it is a case of trust. My work lies somewhere in between the designer and the company, and I’m trying to make the two things touch at one point. I’m trying to find a compromise that will make the project have substance. The better the brief at the beginning, the better the results will be at the end, especially when you are working with professional designers that have a lot of skills. If it is very well done, there will be no problems in achieving the goals that the company and designer want. You also need to understand the designers and what they are able to do.


ZaoZuo's Fuge cabinet by Note Design Studio
ZaoZuo’s Fuge cabinet by Note Design Studio


ZaoZuo’s results are very impressive. Unfortunately, it is not yet available in many places in China, including Hong Kong.

Richard: That makes the brand even more interesting though. When you are waiting for something, the expectations keep going higher and higher.

Luca: I remember when MUJI was not available in Europe. People would come up to me and say, “Are you going to Japan? Can you buy me these things from MUJI?” It was so cool when IKEA first opened in Italy because people really wanted to go, although not anymore.


What is the ultimate goal for ZaoZuo – to become a designer furniture brand or a lifestyle brand?

Richard: Both.

Luca: I agree with Richard, it is both. We are not just working to create furniture, but to create everything. In fact, to create a lifestyle. There will be a lot of work as the ambition is very high, but it’s what we aim to achieve.


Are there any brand updates that you want to share with us?

Luca: The first store opened last month and I designed it with the ZaoZuo team. We are going to open the second store in Shanghai in a few weeks, and then plan to open another four stores. There are also many products in the pipeline, and we are working on a new design strategy to make the way that we present the product cleverer, and to support all the departments in the company. So, everything starts with the product and if you have a very good set up, communication will work much more smoothly, both online and offline. It not just about people buying single products, we want them to think about the entire environment and how they could live in a home that’s completely down to ZaoZuo.


The creative team of ZaoZuo. From left to right: Shu Wei, Richard Hutten, NOTE Design Studio, Luca Nichetto and Constance Guisset
The creative team of ZaoZuo. From left to right: Shu Wei, Richard Hutten, NOTE Design Studio, Luca Nichetto and Constance Guisset


More about ZaoZuo 造作


Elise YAU (Editor of CoBo)
Elise YAU is an editor and journalist specialises in design, lifestyle and luxury topics. She has written extensively for Ming Pao Weekly, City Magazine and HK01, and she is the author of book projects regarding design, architecture and Hong Kong culture. Currently based in Hong Kong, Elise is immersing the art world after joining CoBo, the first Asia community platform for collectors.


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