a korean artist looking forward to the past



Korean artist Kang Myung Sun is using a centuries old craft of her native South Korea in fantastic new and modern ways. She creates beautifully organic pieces of functional furniture covered in shimmering mother-of-pearl. It’s truly amazing to see her sculptural seating and cabinets for the first time, because this is not how mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture is supposed to look. It’s supposed to look fussy and old-fashioned yet Kang’s pieces are nothing but terribly contemporary, chic and remarkably ingenious.



arm chair

South Korean furniture has a long history of incorporating mother-of-pearl as a decorative inlay in lacquered pieces. Early in her career, Kang began to work with non-wood products and stumbled upon mother-of-pearl. It was only after she discovered how to make supple and pliable thin sheets of abalone shell veneer that her works developed into the magnificent pieces shown here. The Korean artist starts with a small model of each piece of furniture carved in Styrofoam that is later built into a full-size piece in carved wood. Applying the mother-of-pearl to a large chest of drawers or to a bench is a delicate process and it can take several months for a piece to take shape from the time of conception to its unveiling.



cocktail table / bench



Like any modern master, it’s all in the details for this Korean artist. Kang chooses only the finest abalone shells to make her veneers. The contours of her furniture are highlighted by dark lines incorporated into the design of each piece to break the monotony of the shimmering mother-of-pearl and to add interest to each work. The results are ethereal and yet substantial – functional pieces of furniture that defy everything you thought you knew about furniture … or art for that matter!




Kang’s furniture is exactly what I like to use sparingly to infuse my spaces with the unexpected. Placed amongst the right antiques or mid-century modern furniture, Kang’s pieces can make a room sing. This Korean artist also produces smaller objects that are perfect for dressing any room. Imagine a bowl or box covered in her signature veneer atop a Nakashima natural edge low table? Or a hanging console placed under a Wendell Castle or Jacques Adnet mirror? Like I always say, great quality and beautiful pieces will hold their own in any well-appointed interior.




Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising.

image credit: Korean Artist Kang Myung Sun, South Korea