Huynh Dung Nhan’s former home is a fitting location for our Vietcetera office. The writer and editor-in-chief of the Bao Lao Dong newspaper was famous for articles rich with touching details—something we also aspire to.
The building, that houses a large print-distribution depot and the Lekima store and tea shop, is at 6 Thi Sach in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1. The street connects to Le Thanh Ton, and to Hai Ba Trung, by Nguyen Sieu, Dong Du, and Cau Ba Quat streets, but the tranquil, tree-lined thoroughfare feels a world away from the chaos of the rest of the city’s central district.
The Vietcetera office, that’s been designed by The Lab Saigon, is respectful of its building’s history but forward-looking as the home of Vietcetera’s office and cultural hub.
“Eight months ago, we worked out of Vietcetera’s first cafe at 290 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. This office is a testament to the interest in the stories about the ‘new’ Vietnam that our talented team are telling,” Hao Tran, Vietcetera’s CEO remembers.
Its reference points are ‘70s newsrooms like the Washington Post’s—as seen in the recent film The Post—and the “crafted sensuality” of films by Tran Anh Hung. The Vietnamese auteur, who directed films like Cyclo and The Scent Of Green Papaya—two movies we listed as primers in our “Five Movies To Learn About Vietnamese Culture” piece—has an aesthetic that’s a palpable influence on the 6 Thi Sach space in its design and in its colors, textures, and sense of nostalgia.
“Film. Journalism. Literature. History.” The Lab’s producer and project designer Nhung Ngoc Ho summarizes about the creative studio’s vision behind the office fit-out. “The hardest part for us was bringing new design elements into this former apartment building but harmonizing them with the structure and the environment,” Hoang Thong Nguyen, The Lab’s interior designer, adds.
“The influences are exactly right for what we want to be,” Vietcetera’s founder, Guy Truong, agrees. “We’re indebted to the past, but looking ahead to what Vietnam is becoming.” The building’s print depot is an appropriate neighbor. “We’ve always aspired to publish with print-quality…but delivered online,” Vietcetera’s editor-in-chief David Kaye adds. “That means we can deliver deeply personal stories almost as quickly as this city and country are evolving.”
The Quiet American is another influence. The novel, that has twice been adapted into movies in 1958 and 2002, was written by Graham Greene—himself a correspondent for The Times and Le Figaro. The Vietcetera office, like the 2002 version starring Do Thi Hai Yen, Michael Caine, and Brendan Fraser, has the same sage green walls and French shutters, and smoked-oak brown flooring in its meeting room.
“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam…everything is so intense…the colors, the taste, even the rain,” Greene wrote in The Quiet American. You feel that too looking across the roofs of the printworks from the office’s garden or sheltering from a shower under its overhanging meeting room that takes its cue from ethnic minority stilt houses and the protruding balconies of the former Rue Catinat.
The “secret” revolving bookcase is another reference to the intrigue of Greene’s novel. Here, it leads to the Vietcetera studio that even has a Mad Men-style “On Air” sign outside to alert the team that a shoot’s taking place. “My favorite feature is the way people can circulate through the space—I love taking different paths through the office and settling in different corners. Some areas are great for conversations, others are perfect for just being alone,” The Lab’s producer, Nhung, adds.
There are also features like the custom The Lab x Vietcetera Work Desks that are reminiscent of antique bureaus and pieces from our partners at District Eight. Their Akron “steel-town throwback” collection was inspired by the industrial functionality of furniture in the factories in towns like Akron in America’s “rust belt.”
That era of “heightened design sensibility” feels like Vietnam right now. And Vietcetera has become a hub for the stories of entrepreneurial minds, like The Futur’s Chris Do, and emerging and established international design talent like Lam Gia Khang and Sean Dix—who designed Sake Central Saigon.
The District Eight Akron Desk Chairs which have clean lines, brass details, and signature handmade features, are perfect for a draughtsman’s office…or a place to tell the stories of Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam.
“What District Eight’s Akron collection does represent is the skill of the Vietnamese people and their keen eye for detail,” the modern-industrial design company told us back in December. The same is true of many of the articles, videos, and animations on Vietcetera. “The animations really take a lot of time, but it’s worth the effort,” motion graphics animator Huy Le smiles.
Besides the District Eight Akron desk chair, there are steel-braced Theo wall unit shelves and a Distrikt dresser. The combination of pieces from a local modern-industrial furniture company that are going global, District Eight, and custom pieces—and a design concept—by The Lab, who worked on innovative new office spaces like AIA’s in the Saigon Center, is Vietcetera’s vision of Vietnam. The office is a place from which to tell these local stories to a global audience.
“I wander around the city, find a corner of peace…” Huynh Dung Nhan wrote in one of his poems. That’s our Vietcetera office.