Spotted Nyonya Collection

Hans Tan Studio

Spotted Nyonya is an industrial re-interpretation of Nyonya porcelain, the traditional domestic wares attributed to the Peranakan Chinese of Southeast Asia. Launched by Hans Tan Studio in September 2011, the first Spotted Nyonya collection comprised five items: a candleholder, a container without lid, big and small containers with lids and a platter.

The traditional objects took on a contemporary look when their original multi-coloured surfaces were embellished with dotted stickers, placed at precise intervals. Adapting a similar technique to the resist-dyeing technique applied to dye fabric patterns in Batik craft, the porcelain pieces masked with the dotted stickers were sandblasted, so that the areas protected were preserved, while the original glaze sections from exposed areas were erased, revealing the white porcelain that laid beneath.

Spotted Nyonya is created through a reductive method — the process of removing material. The result is an array of geometrical dots in harmony with elaborate traditional patterns, imbuing the pottery with new values and a fresh mode of appreciation.



Born and based in Singapore, Mr Tan studied industrial design at the National University of Singapore and later pursued a Masters degree programme at the Design Academy Eindhoven. Upon graduation, Mr Tan opened his studio and focused on contextual research. His investigations in the field of design employ function as a medium. His designs often explore values, rituals and materiality.

In 2009, Mr Tan was nominated for the Designer of the Future Award at Design Miami/Basel; then spotted by DesignNet (a reputable monthly design magazine from Seoul, Korea), he was selected as one of the 36 Young Asian Designers. In that same year, he won the Martell VSOP Rising Personalities Award, which recognised passionate and driven individuals from different creative fields. Mr Tan has exhibited his works in “Singletown” at the Venice Biennale, “Surface art/design” in Dortmund and Cologne, and “No Boundaries” at ArtStage Singapore. Most recently, Mr Tan emerged victorious at the fall edition of Maison et Objet 2011 in Paris when Spotted Nyonya won the Les Découvertes (Most Innovative Product) prize.

Tan is actively engaged in curatorial work. He produced the exhibitions “Rest & Relax” for Singapore Changi Airport, and cocurated “MadeForSam” for the Singapore Art Museum. In March this year, Tan led 13 students from the Division of Industrial Design at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to produce a collection of work, questioning conventional notions of modern-day comforts and material obsession.

Mr Tan’s penchant for design pedagogy includes developing imaginative thinking tools that provide novel approaches to the design process based on generative deformations, use of language and systematic reflection. He is currently teaching in NUS.


Hans Tan Studio
Hans Tan, Founder

‘‘Young designers need to constantly uplift their passion for design. A successful designer must have an eye for design and good observation skills. It is the ability to see and observe that will be an added value.’’

Insights from the Recipient

What were the main challenges you faced when you were working on the design, and how did you resolve them?

Hans Tan: The project is an industrial re-interpretation of the Nyonya porcelain vessel, a traditional domestic ware that is native to Chinese-Peranakans in Southeast Asia. By resist-blasting the original multi-coloured surface into a new dotted pattern, we created a contemporary context. Resist-blasting every piece by hand was a challenge. As the process involves the removal of the glaze porcelain surface, it is irreversible. Therefore, if a mistake is made in the blasting process, the piece is damaged and cannot be recovered. It took years of practice to reduce the casualty rate to its minimal level today.


‘‘Design is contextual. Things do not exist and operate in a vacuum. Design can affect and be affected by its environment. A thoughtful, well-designed product is crucial. But at the same time, that is only one of many factors that make a product successful. Designing is about making the right thing, at the right place, at the right time, for the right consumer, with the right producer and selling the product through the right retailer.’’

Jury Citation

The design process of the Spotted Nyonya Collection reinterprets and transforms traditional objects from the past and invests them with a contemporary attitude. The collection is a particularly important reflection of Asian culture and craft, but re-purposed in a modern way.

The Jury was impressed by the originality of the idea and its beautiful and painstaking execution, with a high level of craftsmanship reflecting the craft values of past traditions.

The merging of classic craft with contemporary design changes our perception of these traditional, and originally functional Peranakan products, investing them with authorship and, in the process, giving them a new twist, to create completely new and beautiful pieces.


Nominator Citation


Spotted Nyonya is an industrial re-interpretation of traditional Nyonya porcelain vessels used as domestic wares native to the Peranakan Chinese in Southeast Asia. This contemporary take transforms the original multi-coloured surface into a new dotted pattern, using a technique similar in concept to the resistdyeing technique that is often applied to dye fabric patterns.

Spotted Nyonya feels both familiar yet refreshing at the same time, a contemporary pop art gesture overlaid onto a very traditional object. By “removing” distinctive features of the Nyonya porcelain, Hans has ironically made them stand out more. This reductionist gesture is radical in making one wonder what defines the typical Nyonya porcelain. What is less in this case, becomes more.

The porcelain pieces are first masked with the new dotted motif, which is then sandblasted so that the areas protected are preserved, while the original glaze sections from exposed areas are erased, revealing the white porcelain which lies beneath.

Hans’s work employs function as an investigative medium, working with objects that often explore values, rituals and materiality, resulting in something that posits itself between the fields of art and design. The finished product is a tranquil and functional piece of work. The sheer time and effort that goes into these pieces is a work of art in and of itself. The first series of Spotted Nyonya was awarded the distinction of Les Découvertes (Most Innovative Product Award) as part of the Now! Design à vivre show at the fall edition of Maison et Objet 2011 in Paris.


Hans Tan


Founder, Hans Tan Studio; and Assistant Professor, Division of Industrial Design,
National University of Singapore
Hans Tan Studio