Bao Cooks Up Charming Atmosphere

Alda Ly Architecture's Bao collection. Photo by Pippa Drummond


June 6, 2023

Furniture isn’t often described as adorable, but the Bao poufs by the AAPI, woman owned Alda Ly Architecture immediately brought forth such affection. Using their namesake as a design prompt — “bao” has many interpretations, including bun, baby and precious — ALA debuts a cute and playful collection that adds whimsy to any interior.

Alda Ly and Tania Chau of Alda Ly Architecture. Photo by Pippa Drummond

“The multiple meanings of the word ‘bao’ include expressions of preciousness and playfulness, and we designed a pouf that exudes both,” said Alda Ly, founder and principal of ALA.

The Baos are entering a saturated poufs market, but their versatility makes them stand out. They’re available in three sizes — small, medium and a large half-round — and can be further customized with a low loop handle, high loop handle or a stacking attachment. They will  blend into any environment thanks to ALA’s collaboration with Hickory Business Furniture, which offers an extensive offering of textiles and stitching.

“When we initially presented the design brief to the ALA team, we included an extensive wishlist, expecting to only accomplish one or two of those objectives,” explains Casey Baxter, vice president and general manager at HBF | HBF Textiles. “Our goal was to showcase something novel, fresh and functional. With the combination of the wood stacking variation and two loop back handles in addition to the small, medium and large half round pieces, ALA was able to complete the whole checklist.”

The Baos are available in two heights, a low one for lounging and a high one for working. The supports match a minimalist, curved wooden handle that is also available in two variations. This addition makes it easy to move the Bao around the room and serve as a space-saving fixture. The higher handle height, which curves backwards like a bistro chair, adds a little support for those who want to use the Bao as seating.

“The details of this collection are important. We wanted the design to be impactful both at first glance and also up close, so we explored ideas for decorative detail options that could provide visual interest at a smaller scale,” explained Tania Chau, Director of Interior Design at Alda Ly Architecture.

A Bao can be dressed in airy linen, swathed in leather or suited in herringbone. A sample in yellow makes the Bao look most like a bun reaching perfection in a bamboo steamer. The conical stitching on the top of the pouf modernizes the steamer’s weft, and a handle on the back channels the transportability of the traditional cookery. With these associations, the Bao elicits sensations of coziness, warmth and homesickness. That would bring a subconscious, unexpected joy to medical or retail environments, which is one of ALA’s specialities.

Detail of the Bao’s conical stitching. Photo by Pippa Drummond

In 2017, ALA redesigned a few offices for the exclusive, feminist co-working space, The Wing, which showed ALA’s prowess for bringing colorful, feminine touches to the traditionally stuffy entrepreneurial spaces. They’ve since gone on to design for Tia, the women-focused healthcare company. They’ve rejected the notion that a medical center has to be cold and sterile. Instead, they bring institutions to life with biophilic design, plants, warm lighting and open floor plans.

The whimsical Bao continues to exemplify this ethos, as evidenced by Chau’s description of the protective cap on the Bao’s stacking model. “These options are like jewelry or an accessory – an extra touch that the specifier can use to distinguish and customize their pieces to suit each project.” Imagine rhinestones studding your hospital waiting room, ensuring that comfort and luxury awaits.

ALA’s dedication to reinventing traditional retail, healthcare, office and cultural spaces has made them experts in designing affective spaces. While spaces need to be functional, Ly believes it’s important that they also be inspirational and energetic. The Baos show that a well designed pouf can cook up a charming atmosphere even in the most formal settings.