Binh An first began to design lamps a little over a year ago. “Business in my old coffee shop was quite slow so I started to design in my spare time. I’ve always been passionate about lighting and how it affects your mood. I wanted to create something that expressed my style, and that could make people happy and comfortable.” It was only by chance that the hobby became a profession. “My friend’s birthday was coming up and I wanted to make him something special, so I created a homemade lamp. Fortunately he really liked it.” That friend was Hoai Thuc, who is now An’s business partner and fellow designer at NOBI Lighting (425/16 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3). Neither have any formal background in art and design, but both share a passion for vintage aesthetics.
Recently relocated, their new space houses a studio on the ground floor while a cluttered workshop with salvaged wood, discarded plumbing, motorbike chains, drills and metalworking tools is located on the rooftop. “I spend a lot of time walking around flea markets looking for inspiration and things to base a new design on, but quite often I also get lucky when people throw things away, I can often see potential in the things other people see as broken,” says An.
For a recent design, where the bulb is housed by a metal cube crisscrossed by wires and set upon a wooden base, the inspiration came from a children’s game similar to snakes and chutes. Another design celebrates an iconic aspect of Saigon’s character – the motorbike. “When Hoai or I have an idea, we tend to take some scrap metal and wood and just give it a try upstairs. Normally it takes three or four attempts at least before we get a result we are happy with.” The two have collected a number of broken motorcycle chains and drive systems to be cleaned, coated in matte black paint and turned into a celebration of what keeps Saigon moving. The bike chain lamps are priced at VND500,000.
Most of the smaller lamps, starting at VND200,000, are based on reclaimed wood from the Mekong. The wood is ossified by wind and water, creating a dense base with intricate textural patterns. Another eye-catching feature of the lamps are the bulbs. They come in a variety of shapes and styles, that can be customized by the buyer, and house an intricate low-wattage filament that gives off a soft yellow glow. “Ambience is very important, we want to help create the best atmosphere, and all our lamps come with a dimmer switch to account for mood and time of day.” The bulbs last for up to 3,000 hours, and replacements can be bought from NOBI.
To further accent the bulbs, An can also paint designs on them for an additional cost. She often paints simple floral designs, but has also done a bride and groom lit up from within to commemorate a couple’s wedding. “I’ll do whatever the customer asks really. It’s another thing that started as a hobby, and I really glad I can make it part of my work.”