Over the last few months I’ve seen lots of references to ‘Japandi’ – a fusion between Japanese and Scandinavian design which is inspiring interiors all over the world. In many respects it’s a natural pairing – despite originating on different sides of the globe, Japanese and Scandinavian design share obvious similarities. Both focus on simplicity and functional beauty, and both showcase an appreciation for natural materials and quality craftsmanship. But there are also differences: whereas the Scandinavian aesthetic tends towards neutral colours and smooth surfaces, Japanese design incorporates warmer tones and plenty of textured materials such as rattan, bamboo and tatami.
It’s a combination that I find fascinating. So, when an email popped into my inbox with details of a creative partnership between Japanese furniture factories Legnatec and Hirata Chair and a range of global designers, including Copenhagen-based Norm Architects and Swede Staffan Holm, I was intrigued.
Named Ariake, which means ‘daybreak’ in Japanese, the collaboration came together during a series of workshops in Morodomi, southern Japan, where a debut collection inspired by Japanese urban living and spirituality was created. The result is a series of 18 functional designs encompassing seating, storage and tables, all made in Morodomi from white oak, hinoki, ash and leather, as well as unique finishes such as sumi, indigo and burnt cedar.
Norm Architects was responsible for two of the designs: the ‘Braid’ sofa and the ‘Outline’ chair. Co-founder Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen explains: “Working intensively and openly with this group of designers and the skilled craftsmen at the factories made me realize how we were bound together by a huge respect for craftsmanship, quality, authenticity, minimalism, functionality, innovation and nature… I immediately understand the connection between the two cultures.”
Conceived in conjunction with Brazil-based StudioMK27, the ‘Braid’ sofa combines a simple, architectural structure with braided paper-cord armrests, referencing elements of traditional Danish furniture as well as the patterns found in Japanese bamboo and tatami constructions.
The ‘Outline’ chair likewise incorporates influences from both cultures, blending clean lines and a sharp, contemporary aesthetic with delicate proportions that reflect the Japanese concept of kawaii (‘cute’). The seat and back are made from plywood and the legs from solid wood; there’s also a version with a leather seat and a back upholstered in Japanese fabric.
Staffan Holm’s creations include the ‘Kumiko’ cabinets, whose sliding fronts echo the intricate geometric patterns of traditional Japanese kumiko screens, and the ‘Dovetail’ stool – a celebration of the understated beauty of the dovetail joint, which has been used in furniture making for thousands of years.
Holm also designed the ‘Beam’ table, whose supporting beam is incorporated into the underside of the table top. Available in natural oak or black ash, it was inspired by the idea that the trademark of true craftsmanship is paying attention to details which you don’t immediately see.
Other Ariake designs were created by Anderssen & Voll (Norway), Gabriel Tan (Singapore), Keiji Ashizawa (Japan), Shin Azumi (Japan) and Zoe Mowat (Canada). You can see the full range here.
All photography via Norm Architects and Ariake