Designer Brodie Neill’s furniture fuses cutting-edge technology with artisanal craft. His creative process took him to Japan in 2019, where he spent a summer studying traditional techniques. There, he sought out craftsman Keiji Tominaga, and the pair embarked on a collaboration. Their debut Hinoki wood furniture is crafted with Japanese Sashimono (fine woodwork) joinery in a Shiho-korobi pattern designed by Neill – an intricate network of interlaced wood requiring the hand of a master to produce.
“I visited Tominaga Joiners on the island of Shikoku in the intense heat of summer, where Tominaga shared the templates that had been hand-drawn by generations of his grandfathers [the workshop has been on the island since 1895]. In turn, I disclosed my design processes, so there was a depth and richness to our exchange,” Neill says.
The furniture – a tallboy cabinet and sideboard – has simplicity of line despite the complexity of the joinery, which is counterbalanced by an aluminium interior that glints beneath the wood. Each piece will be made to order by Neill’s eponymous studio (POA, brodieneill.com). “This particular technique is a Tominaga family ‘secret recipe’ – it’s a process unique to them only,” Neill says.
Neill found widespread support for sharing such techniques as he travelled across the country. “There was a collective concern for traditional methods having a relevance in contemporary culture,” he says. “They thought that my being there was positive, as they were deeply concerned their legacy would be lost, and wanted to collaborate to ensure traditional crafts reached a new audience far beyond Japan.”
Fashion designer Kenzō Takada drew on the talents of both Japanese and Italian makers to realise his vision for the new contemporary home and lifestyle brand K三 (pronounced “K3”) . The 81-year-old designer, who left his eponymous brand in 1999, has designed home collections before, but this 300-piece ensemble – spanning everything from sofas to bed linen – marks the launch of his first company since Kenzo. His “colourful ode to life” is unapologetically bold. The Maiko design, for example, samples geometric patterns in fiery hues, recalling the kimonos of red-lipped geishas.
Takada says the collection (priced from €200 to €30,000 for more exceptional pieces) is “a tribute to the Japanese savoir-faire”, and it’s this vibrant, joyous side of Japanese culture that has captured the imagination of many wallpaper and textile designers.
Moooi’s Tokyo Blue wallpaper collection for Arte (arte-international.com) is witty and playful; Indigo Macaque depicts monkeys bathing in hot springs at the foot of a mountain, embroidered over Japanese denim (£259, from janerichardsinteriors.com). Arte, a wallcovering specialist, has also launched its own Kami collection of Japanese-inspired designs, in materials that range from real silk textile to pleated origami paper.
Philippe Desart, the brand’s managing director, calls its Kimono design (£139, from tm-interiors.co.uk) the “showstopper”. It comprises six silk foulards with landscape scenes of blossom trees, Mount Fuji and stylised fans in a bold panoramic print. “You could use it for a statement wall in your living room, but then choose a calmer pastel shade from the simpler Dupion design for the rest of the room, or into a conjoining dining space,” he says, reflecting on how the wallpapers might be used in the home. “This idea of creating negative space, or a pause – a space for reflection in a design scheme to give focus to decorative elements – is very much at the core of Japanese design principles.”
Simplicity, of course, is synonymous with the Japanese aesthetic. Pierre Frey drew on this when creating its Magie Japonaise wallcovering (price dependent on specification), a landscape print reminiscent of the drawings of misty mountains of the Song dynasty. At London Design Week at Chelsea’s Design Centre in March, examples of pared-back purity were plentiful: from the Rosetta armchair by Flexform (£2,950) to David Girelli’s Cape bench with Yarn Collective. Japandi (the fusion of Japanese and Scandi style) has also resurfaced as a buzzword for 2020.
But how do you translate the look into a liveable home? Los Angeles studio Mini Inno pulls the aesthetic together effortlessly in its renovation of Villa Kuro, a midcentury house in California’s Joshua Tree national park. Here, white spaces are punctuated by natural wood and bamboo, with large windows framing the arid landscape. Simple wooden shelves line the walls, filled with curated objects, and a tea room is the sociable heart of the home.