The Cave Workshop

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Back in 2010, a group of seven fresh design graduates decided to form a collective called Cavemen, but were not sure about their direction. So they literally scoured the streets for ideas until they came across some discarded wood, which they took back to their workshop. Soon they were spending their nights scavenging for waste products to ‘upcycle’ into furniture – all despite the fact that none of them actually ever studied product design. After lots of practice (and plenty of injuries), they launched The Cave Workshop, which designs ‘experimental’ furniture; using new materials to produce simple and functional items that retain an exhibition-worthy aesthetic. Staying true to their roots, the Cavemen also run ‘upcycling’ workshops for the public – showing us how to turn waste wood into usable items. The Cave’s pieces are generally one-off commissions, although they recently launched their first mass-produced product – the ‘Boltie Stool’. With their next exhibition at Paris Design Week, the Cave are all set to successfully combine the worlds of furniture, art and… garbage. Time Out sits with Brandon Chan and Eqqus Lee of The Cave Workshop...to talk shop.

Hi guys! We do enjoy your name! What exactly does a Caveman do?
Chan: After we all graduated [in design], the first thing we did was rent a flat. We had nothing in the flat and we were thinking ‘what can we do in here?’ So we went onto the street, and we found a lot of abandoned wood from logistics companies. So we just grabbed them and then went back to the studio and played with the wood. What we were doing was similar to a caveman; we were going hunting every night. So that’s why we are called the Cavemen!

Did you all study furniture design?
Lee: Not at all! We have seven members – two studied graphics, two did fashion, two did interior design and one studied visual design. I think it’s really fun to put our knowledge from our different categories into the products and their shape.

You are known for your ‘upcycled’ furniture. How would you say that is different from recycling?
C: Everyone knows what recycling means. But upcycling means getting waste and then… making a chair using our skills and our knowledge. But actually – the fact we are known as an upcycling company – I think that’s an accident! We do workshops using waste materials, but we also do a lot of different design projects [with new materials].

Do you see your designs as more of an art form or more functional?
L: Every piece of furniture or product here has a story. For every exhibition we do, we tell a story, we tell everybody what we do and what this chair is about.

So are you guys really, really good at DIY?
C: I try! I try to do everything by hand. My bag here – I made that myself. This bracelet I am wearing – I made that! In other countries, we find that when people need something, the first question they ask is ‘how can I make it, how can I do it by myself?’ It’s not like that in Hong Kong because it’s so easy, you can get things everywhere; you can go to Ikea. But we believe we can do everything by hand.

Where can we buy your products?
L: Most of the products we sell as custom-made projects. People email us and say ‘I want a desk, I want a chair’, so we provide the service, we design and then we produce and then we deliver.

So did you encounter problems learning how to make furniture?
C: We have had a lot of injuries… seriously! One of our members had his finger cut off. Half of his finger…

Holy crap. What happened?
L: It was an accident. With a big machine… the glove was too big and it got pulled in. So after that, we kind of… it was quite an unforgettable memory for us.
C: So after that we decided we should do more design!

What do you think about the popularity of mass-produced furniture?
L: They’re two different worlds. Of course we want to sell our products and earn money, but I think if you want to sell the products by mass production, you have to give up something. We want to show our design and the concept first.

So do you ever find it hard collaborating between the seven of you?
C: So far it’s pretty good, cause we’re all guys maybe. We don’t fight!

Interview by Anna Cummins 

Check out the Cavemen and their Cave at facebook.com/thecaveworkshop

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