Nicole Teng, the bubbly Taiwanese designer behind homeware brand Brut Cake, has been bouncing around Shanghai for years in search of a permanent home for her quirky ceramics and reclaimed wooden furniture. There’s been a gorgeous but short-lived Jingan Villas space, Plum Studio (itself a spin-off from Teng’s first joint venture, art space Plum Gallery, which shut down), and Showroom, a concept store hidden in a crumbling French Concession villa.
However, after settling on Anfu Lu, here’s a similar workshop feel to her previous ventures, with white-painted walls, dark-stained wooden floorboards, and goods strewn, stacked and stuffed in and on every available surface, nook and cranny. Everything, from the trio of outsized crocheted lampshades (4,000RMB) dangling from the ceiling to the plates hanging on the walls, is handmade by Teng and her tiny team of three: a husband and wife tailors and a local upholsterer.
Rough-round-the-edges, quirky and characterful, designs hew closely to the raw and original aesthetic of the 1950s ‘Art Brut’ movement after which the brand is named. Entirely self-taught, Teng says her focus is on creating ‘useable artwork’ rather than product design. It’s a philosophy that’s felt most plainly in the gorgeous ceramics: mugs (180RMB), plant pots (from 200RMB), bowls and plates are hand-painted with tipsy whimsical faces and come in endearingly non-standard sizes; some are unglazed, adding to the rustic look and feel. New additions are the ceramic lamp-shades, mounted on wooden cubes and topped with bare light bulbs (600RMB/three-bulb lamp), or dangling from a reclaimed iron faucet (420RMB).
Also beautiful are the colourful cloth products, which incorporate locally sourced, antique cotton fabric that’s been spun, dyed and woven by hand into 12 distinctive checked and striped patterns popping with emerald greens, cobalt blues and deep reds. We like the flat caps (180RMB), but you could also deck out your entire kitchen and dining room with finger-puppet oven gloves, place mats and lined baskets.
The standout pieces are the recycled chairs and sofas, re-upholstered in the same vintage fabrics and made over to resemble distinct personages, such as a grumpy-looking retired general (6,000RMB), a wide-eyed child and a haughty queen (8,000RMB).
With an online shop in the works and plans to sell in her native Taiwan and Japan, the brand looks set to take off in a big way: now’s the time to grab a slice of local design history.