Living in a Material World


Unlike many designers, Budiman Ong does not start his projects with sketching. He goes right to the materials, plays with them, explores them and finds out what they can turn into. His greatest success is not about how many lamps he sells but how different a material can form into others. Unique? That’s what Ong Cen Kuang is.

It all started when Budiman studied in Scotland. He found a liking to designing products, specifically lighting, but he cannot explain why exactly. Two of his inspirations, designers Ingo Maurer and Isamu Noguchi, made him realise what special things lamps can be.

In idle times like a ride on the bus to campus, Budiman would fold, pinch and do whatever to the bus ticket with his fidgety hands. Little did he know, it became a habit that he carries until now when exploring a material, even until his company, Ong Cen Kuang, has made it in the lighting business.

“Ong Cen Kuang is about material first and foremost. And it’s about how we explore the material to get through different shapes,” Budiman explains. One day a certain material can be something, the next it can be something else, depending on what you do with it. “So it’s a journey. It’s about process. Process means making. For me making is designing. The longer you spend on it, the more you understand it. And then most likely you’ll be able to get something from it,” Budiman says about his design philosophy.

Ong Cen Kuang produces different kinds of luxury lights. It’s not luxury in the old sense where they use precious materials; instead they use normal everyday things, like zippers, linen fabric and stainless steel wire. The luxury comes more from the craftsmanship, the work, the thought, the experiments and the love they put into it, and the fact that they are handmade.

One of their renowned collections is Alur, meaning path in Indonesian, whose main material is zipper. It consists of a few designs in various sizes, inspired by simple things like wonton, flower petals and mushroom. They sew the materials in ways that the zippers form beautiful furrows.

Their new collection launched in October this year is called Kain, which means fabric. Like a previous collection, Krisan, Kain is made of stainless steel wire with the process called crochet, a technique wouldn’t normally be associated with such hard material. “Like many of our products, we have a continuation of a story. This year we are using the same technique but we understand the material much better. We are able to change the look of the hard material. There is fluidity to it. That’s why it’s called Kain,” Budiman explains.

Since the company was founded in 2008, Ong Cen Kuang lights have brightened many homes and hotels in Indonesia as their biggest market. Internationally, other than exhibitions like the Maison&Objet in Singapore in which they participated, their collections are also distributed to Italy, France, the US, Taiwan, Turkey and Belgium.

They are not afraid to compete with international brands because Ong Cen Kuang lamps have their own style. “Luckily we are not influenced by trend. But in general I think the trend now has very much to do with local craftsmanship,” Budiman says.

Being a true maker, Budiman is always eager to make something new. “I am looking into natural materials in the future. That is something I’ve never been brave enough to do. Maybe something like rattan, I don’t know,” Budiman says. He is still playing with ideas for the time being, but in a long term there are a lot of materials he wants to play with, as Ong Cen Kuang products always begin from materials.

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Vira Tanka
Having her bachelor degree from Visual Communication Design of Bandung Institute of Technology, she explored her other interest in writing by being a writer for TV programs and travel magazines. Always keeping her love for the art, she actively sketches just about everything, from urban landscape to nature, in between writing projects.
Bagus Tri Laksono
Ong Cen Kuang doc.

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