Feather Inlay Accessories and Furniture


Keren Zhang is a Beijing-based designer and runner up for the Emerging Chinese Designer Award at Design Shanghai 2016. His extraordinary Dian Cui Fang collection pays tribute to, and elevates, the lost Chinese art of Dian Cui.

Dian Cui, translated as “dotting with kingfishers” is a 2000 year old Chinese high art that effectively died out with the social upheaval of the 1940s. The iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds were historically used as an inlay for fine art objects and adornment, from hairpins and headdresses to fans, panels and screens. Kingfisher feathers were painstakingly cut and glued onto gilt silver. The effect is like cloisonné but no enamel has been able to rival the electric blue colour created by the microscopic photonic crystals in the feathers.

Moving to the modern day, Keren is seeking to perpetuate and, at the same time, improve this lost traditional art. He has replaced kingfisher feathers with handmade ones and combined them in a minimalist design for furniture rather than jewellery. His decision to use a teaset as a carrier for his work, however, references the literati tea culture that bloomed during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

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While he uses modern materials and creates modern design, the construction technique is relatively unchanged. Keren cuts each feather to size by hand before applying them in concentric patterns to the lids of his boxes, tea caddies, cups and teapot.  Such detailed precision work requires hours of patience, focus and skill.

“From my point of view, the soul of the feather inlay is not the kingfisher feathers themselves. Instead it is the artisan’s intention… I want to elevate and sublimate this tradition, using its strengths to preserve the visual and spiritual essence”.

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