When it comes to inspirational cities for design, is Shanghai the first location to spring to mind? According to artist and designer Sarah Armstrong, it definitely should. From Art Deco architecture to retro poster artwork and traditional Ming dynasty design, Shanghai is a treasure trove of inspiration. Armstrong has used it all to her advantage with the founding of quirky decor and lifestyle brand, Pinyin Press.
Inspired by the everyday icons of contemporary Asia, Pinyin Press brings together traditional Chinese culture with modern contemporary design. Think ‘Baozi’ printed tea towels, lucky cat ceramics and ‘Dan Dan Mian’ totes. We’re head over heels for Armstrong’s colorful, upbeat take on the simple day to day realities of life in Asia. Eager to find out more about her design inspirations, we caught up with Armstrong over a hearty helping of dumplings. Check out the video below, and read on for more!
Journey to Shanghai
Where did your artistic journey begin?
My mother has always had a passion for interior design and antiques, so I was surrounded by interesting design from a young age. When I was preparing my portfolio to apply to Central Saint Martins in London, I also took lessons with a local jeweler and silversmith who inspired me to pursue design as a career.
How did you end up living in Shanghai?
After experience working in London and New York, I moved to Shanghai to work as a jewelry designer for a Chinese luxury brand. It was an exciting opportunity and I jumped on a plane to start an adventure which has lasted nine years.
“There are some highly talented crafts people in China. In particular, I especially love the textiles from Guizhou province. They’re currently receiving more international recognition, which is both promising and important for the preservation of the craft.”
What are your design inspirations?
For me, it’s my ‘everyday’ in China where I find inspiration. Whether it’s my breakfast dumplings or late night noodles on my bike ride home, there’s always so much to experience. Sometimes it’s the utensils and household objects in the shared kitchens of lane houses which I turn to for inspiration. Other times, it could be the retro tile patterns on the flooring, or the vintage furniture left out on streets.
“I guess one could say that I’m mostly inspired by the simpler pleasures of my daily life.”
“Although I have long term relationships with several suppliers, I attend sourcing fairs in China and am often inspired by the craftsmanship available. Sometimes I unexpectedly find a factory which is highly skilled in making a certain product which takes me in a new direction.”
How do you like to decorate your home?
As I’m surrounded by upbeat and bright Pinyin Press prints at work, I generally choose to have a different style of decor in my home. Currently I’m enjoying plush velvet, soft feminine colors and exotic prints.
I’ve always liked retro furniture and collecting industrial salvage when the opportunity (and space) allows. Naturally, I veer more towards quite industrial or minimalist pieces. However I’ve recently been working on combining these with opulent textiles for an eclectic balance. I also love collecting prints and fabrics, and currently have some tropical toile curtains which I love waking up to every morning. Overall, I feel that the chi in my apartment is good. My interiors balance the sounds and activities of the exteriors in the sunny Shanghai laneway.
What are some of your favorite personal design pieces?
I have a beautiful glass lamp which I bought from a hotel in Shanghai which was being demolished. I also have a lovely lacquer bookcase which was a friend’s before she left Shanghai. Most of my belongings have special memories of places and people who’ve been part of my journey here.
To The Future
What’s next for Pinyin Press?
One aspect I’m hoping to explore more is localized design. Each city in China and Asia has specialties unique to its own culture, so it would be great to explore these in more depth.
Melding traditional Chinese culture with playful design, Pinyin Press offers a surprisingly refreshing twist to the age old adage of ‘East meets West’. We can’t wait to see what’s next for Armstrong and the brand. Who’s with us?