Lan Van Nguyen: From Vietnam to Queens, Crafting Bespoke Shoji Screens

Lan Van Nguyen, the proprietor of the Japanese Shoji Screen Corporation based in New York, embarked on his journey of craftsmanship after fleeing his homeland of Vietnam on a small boat. His quest led him to the United States, where he mastered the art of crafting traditional shoji screens through an apprenticeship. Today, Lan has transformed his passion into a thriving business, designing and constructing bespoke screens from his home workshop for over 40 years.

Specializing in a diverse selection of custom-made screens, Mr. Lan offers everything from sliding to two-way folding freestanding screens, room dividers, and sliding window screens. Eschewing the staples found in mass-produced alternatives, his screens boast traditional hinge fittings, underscoring their authenticity and quality. Lan’s material of choice is Basswood, renowned for its lightweight durability, ensuring that each screen is not only aesthetically pleasing but also long-lasting. Every screen is meticulously tailored to the client’s specifications, allowing for a bespoke experience in terms of fit, size, and color.


The traditional folding screen, tracing back to China’s Han Dynasty, made its way to Japan in the 7th century, initially as gifts from the Korean kingdom of Silla during Emperor Temmu’s reign. By the 8th century, influenced by the Tang Dynasty’s cultural exchange, Japanese artisans began crafting their own versions. Initially designed for practical uses like draft prevention—evident from its Chinese name indicating “block wind”—these screens have evolved over centuries. Today, they are integral to both Japanese and global interior designs, offering privacy, partitioning spaces, and enhancing aesthetics by discreetly concealing areas such as kitchen entrances.

Evolution of Japanese Screens

The Chinese folding screen, originally made from wooden panels bound by cloth or leather, served as a decorative partition. Japanese innovation transformed it into the versatile byōbu (“wind protection”), utilized in various cultural and social activities like entertainment, tea ceremonies, and processions. Crafted with a wooden lattice and layers of paper for durability, and joined by paper hinges, these screens offered reversible folding and horizontal use, enhancing both function and design.

Today, despite the prevalence of machine-made products, there remains a niche for traditional, handcrafted byōbu, preserved by certain families. The evolution of screens now encompasses different forms and names, including the single-panel Tsuitate, Fusuma sliding doors adorned with art, Shoji translucent paper screens for light and privacy, and Tobusuma wooden sliders, reflecting the screens’ rich history and varied uses in Japanese design.