Fallen Leaf – Designer Kim HyunJoo serves up on paper tableware.

Strictly speaking, Kim HyunJoo’s flexible plates and dishes do indeed grow on trees. The award-winning designer from Seoul made them from traditional hanji paper – which in turn is made from mulberry trees and then sealed with lacquer. The design presented at Ambiente “Talents” delighted by virtue of its distinctive appearance and obvious sustainability credentials. On #TalentsTuesday, Kim HyunJoo explained what old techniques can do for young designs.


“For me, nature is like a mother, it gives me warmth and security. Sometimes we forget how nature nourishes us,” recounts Kim HyunJoo, while almost caressing what appears to be a large leaf. However, this oversized autumn foliage is, on closer scrutiny, stiff paper which the South Korean designer is transforming – with just a few movements – into a shallow dish. “Traditional Korean hanji paper, obtained from the bark of the mulberry tree, is the perfect medium for realizing my idea of integrating nature more effectively in our lives. The special structure of the hand-crafted paper enables everyday objects to be made from it,” says the 34-year-old, who presented her series entitled “Fallen Leaf tray” as part of the “Talents” event.


We ask how the trick is done. “I have worked a delicate fine-wire mesh between two layers of paper to imitate the structure of a leaf. Then all I have to do is apply a little bending to create the dishes or plates,” she explains. Kim HyunJoo offers the shallow tableware in a range of sets and colours, sometimes in the form of lily pads, sometimes lanceolate beech leaves. “At Ambiente, I want in particular to persuade European customers to use my ‘Fallen Leaf tray’ in, for example, restaurants and catering. Because, once you have applied this natural lacquer from my home country – what we call ‘ottchil’ – which is similar to shellac varnish, the dark brown leaves become water-impermeable,” she reveals. The success of these sets in Seoul gives her hope: “They have been on sale there for two months now.”

There it is again – this calmness. That essential tranquility that Kim HyunJoo’s creations often have. Loud, garish design is not her style. In her studio www.kimhyunjoo.com, which she founded following her graduation from Hongik University Seoul and after several years travelling around Italy, she designs furniture, luminaires, tableware – and she has also made a stool for dog-owners. Elegant and heart-warming, this stool called “Happilyever” – a shared item of furniture for master, mistress and hound – won her the 2008 Red Dot Design Concept Award. She is particularly keen on materials that offer a clear reference to the power of nature and the strengths of her own home country: granite, marble, and Korean metalworking techniques that have been handed down through the generations. Things such as hand-forged napkin rings of unique Korean “bangjja” bronze. Featured in trade magazines and books, her designs invariably attract great admiration. She was also a guest at Paperworld 2014. “Together with the Milan Furniture Fair, Frankfurt is very important for revisiting and refreshing my ideas.”


She has, she says, long thought about how nature might be “brought to the table” – and then she came upon the ancient technique of rolling food in leaves for both freshness and decoration. “My new label, ‘Plus Nature’ – www.plusnature.co.kr – is a reminder that these durable dishes and plates are representative of sustainability borne out of respect for nature.”