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The Art and Beauty of Vietnamese Lacquerware

For centuries, Vietnamese artisans have been using lacquer to create objects of beauty, prized for their sheen and vivid colour. Lacquerware refers to items coated with lacquer, a resin that traditionally comes from the lacquer tree (the cây sơn variant in Vietnam). Upon hardening, the lacquer forms a smooth layer over the underlying base material, protecting it from degradation while maintaining its colour and beauty.

A time-honoured craft perfected

While mass production techniques are available today, the finest lacquerware pieces are still made by craftsmen in small traditional lacquer villages. These villages have been producing lacquerware for hundreds of years with techniques passed down and refined from generation to generation.

Image: Cirebon Cloud Lacquer Box. Our lacquerware collections are designed in our Singapore studio then traditionally lacquered by hand in family-owned Vietnamese workshops.

The lacquering process is one that takes both skill and time as the base material (such as wood) has to be carefully coated with numerous thin layers of lacquer. After each layer is applied, the craftsman has to wait for days for the lacquer to dry before sanding it down and applying another layer. When the desired layers are applied, the lacquer piece is then polished again. The layers of lacquer give the meticulously finished piece its remarkable smoothness and gloss.

An accent for the modern home

Traditionally, wood has been used as the lacquer base. Today however, many different materials including composites and ceramics might be used. For example, at Forbidden Hill, our lacquer trays, are made of natural rice husk fibre which is not only sustainable, it also allows the trays to be crafted in our unique forms.

Image: Utama lacquer boxes and trays in Hornbill Blue and Kopi Brown. The Utama Collection depicts a majestic lion and is an homage to Singapore, the 'Lion City'.

And while lacquerware once tended to be in black or red with nature-inspired art, Vietnamese lacquerware today has more variety. Our lacquerware collections bring a modern and multicultural twist to the art form – depicting traditional motifs from across South East Asia with contemporary design in an array of colour palettes. Whether it’s our lacquer containers or trays, or both as a set, they can add a stylish accent to the modern interior, as well as bring a piece of the region’s cultural heritage into your home.

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