LINCOLN PARK — If the world seems to be moving too fast, perhaps the answer is slow living.
That's the attitude of Yaoyu Tong, owner of Five Elements Home, 2216 N. Clybourn Ave., a new store that opened late this summer with the concept of bringing the Chinese philosophy of the five elements, or wu xing, to housewares.
The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water, and Yaoyu said that at the store they're embodied in Asian hand-crafted goods that have "a very natural and organic kind of feel."
Feng shui is a trendy term for how housewares are deployed in a home, but Yaoyu goes back to its radical Chinese roots as an "ever-changing and interconnected natural balance," which he said shifts from season to season.
Now, for instance, goods at the store tend to be rich in reds and oranges, giving a "warm and holiday-ish" atmosphere, while in summer the emphasis is on blues, greens and whites.
The desired effect is to encourage "slow living," he added, with Lincoln Park a natural setting for that.
"Slow living is about really taking your time to be mindful — of the moment, of the things around you — not to rush, but take your time to create things organically," Yaoyu said. "Of all the neighborhoods in Chicago, Lincoln Park to me is really a slow-living community. We have the lake. We have the park, the view — and so many interesting restaurants, art places, bookstores.
"I live in Edgewater," he added, "but any time I'm in Lincoln Park I feel I can totally be relaxed, just enjoy what's there."
Chicago was Lincoln Park writ large, and after the Northern Chinese native came here to go to grad school at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he returned to Beijing to work in venture capital, but found himself wanting to bridge the two worlds.
"I just decided to be an entrepreneur myself," Yaoyu said. "I'd always had a passion for arts and design."
He'd found that Chicagoans tend to share the same interests.
"I was very interested in the dynamic creativity that's happening in China, that's not making its way overseas because very often these artisans' workshops are pretty small and you really have to nurture a personal relationship with them," he said.
Last year, he traveled through China for four months, meeting 250 artisans and small family workshops, and from these he selected 22, "the best of the best," with the goods to bring to Chicago.
The items might seem familiar at first, from tea sets and Asian bowls and plates to chopsticks and rolling pins, but the craftsmanship is extraordinary, as in the hand-painted plates reflecting fire and earth, and that's the unique quality Yaoyu believes he's bringing to Chicago and Lincoln Park.
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