Designer Michael Young lives in Hong Kong, works directly with Chinese manufacturers and is the darling of the European furniture industry. Described as a ‘design gypsy’ this iconic designer conjures up colourful, young and useful designs for everyday use.
British-born designer Michael Young likes to design things that have “a smile on their face.” His iconic designs are fresh, colourful and laced with a heavy dose of humour. Michael has designed everything from furniture, hi-tech equipment, wristwatches, accessories like laptop bags, to motorcycles and bicycles.
Born in 1966 in Sunderland in the UK, Michael grew up not specifically aiming to be a designer. He studied furniture and product design at Kingston University followed by four years of working with Space, a studio run by designer Tom Dixon.
Barely two years later, Michael opened his own studio MY002 in London. Inspired by Dixon’s work with scrap metal, one of Michael’s first creation was a woven steel light that instantly became an international bestseller (and is also a hugely copied design). The lamps were immediately acquired by venerable institutions such as the Louvre Museum and are a collector’s item.
His second big project was for the Japanese brand E&Y who manufactured his ‘brightly coloured with rounded corners’ Magazine sofa and table. The Magazine design was another instant bestseller and again, a much copied design.
Moving to Iceland a few years later made Michael more prolific – there were apparently fewer distractions around. Between Reykjavik and Brussels, a new design ethos was being steadily carved. An early partnership with Magis led to a series of furniture lines including the quirky Yogi Family (2002) with its colourful, almost child-like sofas and tables and the Magis Wagon (2002).
New designs have come out from the MY studio at a very regular pace since then. A free-standing writing desk for Established & Sons was designed to create privacy; seen to be often lost when one sits down to write. The hood, made unusually of felt, hides a lamp and is testimony to the innovative use of materials that Michael is recognised for.
Other significant furniture collections include the award-winning Coen chair (in wood and in carbon fibre), the Chair 4A , a chair made from recycled aluminium and designed for an interior project ‘The Night Market’ with Alexi Robinson, and the Lancaster collection for Emeco, the Aluminium Chair Company.
Unusual in design is Michael’s beautiful Avalon chair for Swedese. The gorgeous tub chair that also swivels comes in a range of colours including a rose-red that would fit into any kind of interior. His Zipzi tables are an experiment in new materials – these little glass-topped tables are made of hundreds of interlocking folded paper. The Rust-AY table follows the Oriental technique of folding paper and has an aluminium top.
Michael’s product design encompasses a wide variety of products. His design for the Passanha Olive Oil bottle marked the re-launch of this historic olive oil company (that dates back to 1749). For Chivas Studio in Hong Kong, Michael designed a distinctive and unusual bar with hundreds of mini-gold sticks that resemble fireworks often associated with Asian celebrations. He also developed glassware for Chivas (2009) and a range of barware products for Schweppes (2007).
Working with high-tech products is fast becoming another speciality for the Michael Young studio. Wristwatches, lamps and high-end audio equipment including earphones and speakers make up this range. The Moshi Moshi range of mobile phones fights against “the trend of miniaturising mobile phones” and instead gives us a full-size handset that “celebrates the art of conversation”.
Michael’s forays into transportation have been equally exciting. In 2007, GIANT, the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world, commissioned Michael to create a new design for city bikes. The resulting CityStorm and CitySpeed bikes have received positive reviews and several awards. Michael worked with the Giant Techno Centre based in Taiwan to design and create the bike. The bikes included new features such as an angled pedal (to correct posture and reduce soreness in the rider’s legs), a sturdier saddle seat and handlebars, enclosed chain (to protect trouser legs) and anti-rust treatment for a long-lasting maintenance free experience.
Moving to Hong Kong has enabled Michael to work directly with Chinese manufacturers, building on their local expertise and innovation. With new ideas blossoming in the shape of exciting interiors, products and new furniture designs, Michael Young continues to be a designer to watch out for.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Michael Young