Korean traditional furniture has been always centre of attraction and always facinate me. Come have a look in my window here............
Traditional Korean furniture is low-lying and humble when it stands alone. But when placed with other objects in a “hanok” (traditional Korean house), it shines with architectural, aesthetic, functional and effective qualities.
Thus traditional furniture is often dubbed “a miniature of hanok” as it contains some architectural elements to achieve harmony with the surrounding space and environment.
The Korea Furniture Museum has evolved from the traditional concept of a museum by displaying their collection in hanok buildings to show the objects’ real functions rather than trap them in glass boxes.
Nestled atop Seongbuk-dong, Seoul, the museum in fact consists of 10 hanbok buildings on a vast land area of 6,611 square meters. The museum holds some 2,500 pieces of furniture from the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
It unofficially opened its doors to its neighbors such as foreign ambassadors in 2008 after a 14-year construction period.
The items have been collected by Chyung Mi-sook, director of the museum, since the 1970s, as she thinks furniture is one of the top three traditional Korean beauties along with “bojagi” (wrapping cloth) and folk paintings.
For its breathtaking views above the neighborhood, the museum became widely known to the public as it was used as the venue of a luncheon for first ladies for the G20 summit in Seoul last year.
“Many people think museums are difficult and boring because the exhibits are shown through windows along with a chronological explanation. But our museum focuses more on the value of the use of traditional heritage rather than their existence and preservation themselves. How to use them is our top priority,” said Joshua Park, director of strategic planning and HRM of the museum, in an interview with The Korea Times.
The museum places various kinds of furniture in accordance with function and use in its hanok, which have been reconstructed from ancient styles and structures. A women’s quarter is located in the best scenic place of the museum following the traditional practices as women were strictly restricted in their movements during the Joseon Kingdom. The museum represents the women’s quarter overlooking the entire city, which is regarded as a propitious place according to feng shui.
“Look at the furniture in this room. If we sit down, we can understand why the furniture is placed like this. Our living culture is sedentary. That’s why our furniture is very low-lying and any of these doesn’t block our eye sight when we sit down because our ancestors believed objects bigger and taller than us blocked our spirits. The people using the furniture are considered in the arrangement,” he said.
“Unlike Western furniture which shines separately, our furniture embraces our lifestyle — how we sit, eat and dress. Our museum wants to showcase the very culture of how to use the furniture in our lives and philosophy,” said Park.
The museum is partially open to foreign ambassadors and governmental events to introduce traditional Korean culture on a reservation basis.
But it is now aiming to host more cultural events to show traditional customs and practices such as traditional weddings and first-birthday parties.
“Over the past years, our museum focused on building and strengthening hardware such as the collection and construction of the hanok but now we’re going to put more emphasis on software — cultural content. We will host more cultural events from traditional wedding to coming-of-age ceremonies to promote our spiritual culture,” he said.
The museum is nicknamed “We Used to Live Like This.” “We’ve lost many spiritual civilizations because the nation witnessed stunning industrial and economic development. The ancient high-class culture when Neo-Confucianism dominated will be restored here. We have many spiritual things to show except for economic development,” said Park.
Its “madang,” a yard, is covered with clay sand which drains well when it rains and is hardly blown by the wind and sparkles on the moonlight surrounded by pine trees.
Its kitchen unit now used for small banquets is inspired by Songgwang Temple in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province. Many of the buildings were constructed in the same way of the Joseon’s noble class houses.
The permanent exhibition hall is divided into sections of materials — such as red oak, tortoise shell, red lacquered wood and zelkova wood — usages and origins.
In many cases, Paulownia trees were often used to make the furniture because the wood is light — although they look heavy because of dark colors — anti-insect and grow fast. Many parents planted a Paulownia tree when a girl was born and used it as furniture when she married after growing up in traditional society, according to the museum.
“Also, much of the furniture was used and made by men. The producers and supplies were all the men. The furniture shows a man’s life in a sense,” he said.
Zelkova wood was rarely used as furniture material because it was often regarded as a shrine for the village deity. But during the Japanese colonial rule (1910-45), many Zelkova trees were cut down and made into furniture.
Small portable dining tables called “soban” are piled up in the exhibition hall, showing the different styles in accordance with the regions — Tongyeong in South Gyeongsang Province, Naju in South Jeolla Province and Haeju in Hwanghae Province now in North Korea. According to Park, ancient Korean dining culture was marked by separate tables for each person. “It is not an exaggeration to call Korean dining culture a ‘culture of small tables.’ There were some 50 small tables on average at homes in the past.
“Once visitors see our wooden furniture, they can’t take their eyes off it because of their delicate beauty and colors. They are matching well with other things in any space with beauty a of balance, proportion and moderation.”
Park explained the Korean culture is like a package that binds events, costumes and food together.
“It is difficult when we approach Korean culture from a hardware perspective. But when it meets software or content, it is easier for foreigners to understand. Our museum is actually dreaming of a restoration or a traditional renaissance,” he said.
The museum operates the cultural program titled “Seongbuk Seowon” (ancient private school) through this year. The program consists of three parts — clothing, food and houses. In the clothing section, the museum hosted a royal costume fashion show in March. For the food part, the museum offers a venue for traditional events such as weddings and banquets which provide the traditional foods along with traditional kitchen utensils and ceremonies. In the house section, visitors can experience the hanok life here with the various different functions of the furniture.
The museum will fully open to the public in the first half of next year. But its reservation-based operation policy will not change because random visits can ruin the cultural heritage and the essence of the museum.
For more information, visit www.kofum.com.