The artists at SHIMOO DESIGN have been developing their style while engaging in monozukuri (product making process), giving form to things they consider to have quality and value, presenting it to and having it be validated by the world. By refining their own unique style in line with the times, they have continued making products that are at once breathtakingly innovative and beautiful.
Our second interview is with SHIMOO DESIGN, a team that creates wooden furniture and tableware. We visited their studio in Yatsuomachi, Toyama Prefecture and talked to Kazuhiko Shimoo and Saori Shimoo.
01 The Shimoo Couple’s monozukuri
Kazuhiko and Saori met in college, where they were both majoring in woodworking. After graduation, Kazuhiko went on to work at a furniture-making studio in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture, while Saori began working at a building contractor’s office in Yatsuomachi. After each accumulated some work experiences, they jointly established an independent business called SHIMOO DESIGN. That same year, in 1988, they entered the CRAFT COMPETITION IN TAKAOKA with their sharp, minimalistic okidoko (a low shelf traditionally used in a Japanese style room) entitled “Umoregi,” and won the grand prize. This okidoko has since been SHIMOO DESIGN’s foundation piece. Let’s find out what kind of monozukuri the couple strives for.
ー How did the okidoko, SHIMOO DESIGN’s fundamental piece, come into being?
When we first started our company, we were taking on subcontract work in order to pay the bills, but we knew we couldn’t just keep doing subcontract work, so we began to seriously think about things that would be uniquely us. For the okidoko that won the grand prize 18 years ago, we couldn’t come up with any designs at first. A little while later, I had gone out shopping and by the time I got back, Kazuhiko had drawn up a super simple design. I saw it and said, “This is great! I love it!” When we submitted that into a competition and won the grand prize, I felt that our design perhaps won’t escalate in the wrong direction.
ー What kind of monozukuri do you strive for?
Around the time we were gaining experience working for a company, there wasn’t much designing going on for Japanese furniture. The common style was to use solid timber to create a natural, warm feel, with a thick tabletop and wide, sturdy legs. We felt that Japan could use some artisans who incorporated more design in creating furniture, like you might find in Italy. Not to simply depend on the feel of the wood, but instead, to effectively integrate the features of wood into the design. Among the many woodworkers, we want to place more focus on the design aspect in our work.
02 Fuyou: Wooden Tableware that Collaborates with the Chef
Fuyou is a series of grayish wooden dishes made of Japanese ash whose grains rise above the surface. This distinctive texture is SHIMOO DESIGN’s unique finishing work developed out of their appreciation for such traditional techniques as the uzukuri* and negoronuri**. These dishes are greatly valued by culinary professionals and can be enjoyed at the restaurant L’évo, which serves avant-garde regional foods and is located within the River Retreat GARAKU, a resort hotel in Toyama. We asked Kazuhiko about Fuyou, SHIMOO DESIGN’s newest line.
* uzukuri: A woodworking method in which the wood surface is rubbed till the soft parts are pressed down to let the grains come forward.
** negoronuri: A Japanese lacquering method (urushi) in which an under layer of black lacquer is coated over with a layer of red lacquer, after which the surface is polished to let the black under layer show through in patterns.
ー How did the Fuyou series come about?
About ten years ago, we delivered our first set of wooden dishware to a restaurant. We submitted 100 pieces and they all got returned with complaints. We just really wanted to make wooden dishes that could handle grease that professional chefs would want to use, so we kept experimenting with all kinds of coatings until we found this glass coating material*. We first coat the pieces with a substance containing milk as its main component, then layer over that with the glass coating, and so the dishes become water and oil-resistant. This finally allowed us to take orders from many restaurants.
* A new kind of coating material made with liquefied quartz (silica) glass. Applying a completely inorganic glass film effectively makes the wood water, moisture, and insect repellent.
ー How would you like those dishes to be used?
In the past, we would picture what would be placed on the dishes, and stayed mindful not to let the wood grains stand out too much. But now we do it differently. Instead of trying to conform to the prepared food, we make the dishes the way we like and want the chefs to take on the challenge of using them. The wood grain could at times get in the way of the food, but I say to the chefs, “If you’re a professional, you should be able to handle it!” I enjoy that kind of interactions with them, too. We want them to venture to take on the challenge.
ー How do you find the value in making things by hand?
I have the desire not to depend on the natural feel of the wood material, but rather, to create the wood itself through design. To create certain expressions, there is a lot of calculations that needs to go into it. If you do too much, it feels overly descriptive, and it’s also fun to figure out when to stop. It’s just like creating a painting. Technology has been advancing over the last five or ten years, and we may arrive at a time when craftworkers are no longer needed. I feel as if this is all the more reason to challenge myself to take on the tasks that can’t be done by machines.
03 Individual Paths and the Design for Shitsurai
Graceful, straight lines and soft curves. SHIMOO STUDIO’s monozukuri, which is where the sensibilities of Kazuhiko and Saori harmonize, is approaching a new juncture. How will they keep expressing and bringing to form their respective perspectives and aspirations? “Shitsurai” (the practice of placing decorations appropriate for the season or ritual in certain interior places) is the theme to which they have consistently adhered since the creation of the okidoko 18 years ago. It has since driven the development of the ryūreijoku*, SHIMOO DESIGN’s representative piece. And the team’s realm is expanding further to involve the expressing of space. In conclusion, we asked the couple what the future of SHIMOO DESIGN holds.
* One of the tea-serving forms in Japanese tea ceremony that uses a table and chairs.
ー As it has been 18 years since SHIMOO DESIGN was established,
are you experiencing any changes in your thoughts or views?
We have been changing gradually, and now I’m wanting to become an artist while Saori wants to be a designer. SHIMOO and DESIGN are finally separating after 18 years. All I want to do is to create only the things that I want to. When I make something on my own, I can get extremely meticulous and create something that I truly love. It’s as if I can only design things after I get to know the material.
As for me, I want to enhance our interior design line to include pieces we have not made before like sofas and benches, and promote SHIMOO DESIGN as more of a furniture company. I feel I want to try my hand as a designer. I want to design things that suit our lifestyle by doing things you cannot with wood by using other materials like metal. I have loved making things by hand, but right now it’s more fun for me to think. I want to think up the designs and have an artisan bring them to form. SHIMOO DESIGN will continue as it has, but we may simultaneously do other work independently.
ー Are there any new projects that you would like to take on together?
I want our own store, one that sells products created by SHIMOO DESIGN as well as by artists that we like. I would like to have customers appreciate our world and hopefully they will feel drawn to buy our products. I would love for us to go forward like that.
I want for us to design and create a ryūyrei-type tea room, starting with the space for it. I have been thinking every day about what a tea room of this kind would look like.
Kazuhiko and Saori — a husband-and-wife team of creators. Their work is based on the concept of “tools that are graceful, rational, and beautiful,” with the goal of incorporating Japanese culture and aesthetic sense into today’s lifestyles. It is a new type of “Japanese” that conjures a subtle sense of nostalgia. The wooden furniture and other small items connected to traditional Japanese form all made by hand can add a fixture of Japan to a space of any kind.