It’s not everyday you get an opportunity to meet a legendary designer, so on my commute to the Makoto Koizumi Studio on the east side of Tokyo, I remember feeling like I had the best job in the world at that particular moment.
Nestled between two professional buildings on a busy street, I am greeted by Makoto and his staff at the entrance of the studio. The train to Yaho Station took me at least 45mins from my hotel, so I had ample opportunity to google translate all the possible questions and greetings I would need for such a meeting. The actual encounter turned out to be more casual than expected, so much of what I was trying to memorize wasn’t necessary at all.
The Koizumi Studio is renowned in Japan for quality lifestyle products. The range of designs span a variety of categories, but what has continued to be its signature is an interesting interaction between material and function. I first came across his works about five years ago in a previous trip to Japan. It left me with the impression that each product had a unique personality and I’ve realized after meeting Makoto, that his wit, sensitivity and humor have always been imbued in all of his creations. During our conversation, Makoto himself mentions an old Japanese proverb…
“Spare no trouble on anything you do, and put your whole heart into everything”
The interview was conducted in English and Japanese. Both languages are published so as to not lose any meaning in translation for native readers.
MK: I was born in Tokyo in 1960, and grew up there. I went to woodworking school at the age of twenty to study furniture design, and afterwards apprenticed at an interior designer office before starting my own studio.
MK: Whether it’s architecture or product design, “lifestyle design” is the explanation behind everything I do. The concept of Japanese lifestyle design is defined as “making necessary tools for everyday life, beautifully”. That being said, with both architecture and products I carry out the design process with the same view in mind.
MK: I got my education in woodworking, so I prefer using wood.
“Whether it’s architecture or product design, “lifestyle design” is the explanation behind everything I do.” – Makoto Koizumi
MK: The “beauty” in the final product comes when the eventual form of an object has been thoroughly thought through and possesses its intended functionality. As a result fundamental Japanese design has a specific term for this, “the beauty of use.” Even decorative elements are made with their necessary form and function in mind, so they are not just ornamental. I combine these principals in my designs as well. Simply put, most Japanese design is commercial in nature with a focus on the user, which I think is in line with design trends from abroad.
MK: I generally turn down work from larger companies, because design starts with communication between the designer of a product and the people who will be responsible for producing it. I also prefer to work on a scale that allows everything which is said among the involved parties to be heard all around.
MK: As an active designer with a similar value system, I respect Peter Zumthor. I agree with his approach of carefully taking his time and matching the environment and circumstances he’s been given to work with.
MK: I have an interest in collecting and studying old tools. Ancient tools for living are particularly inspiring to me. These sincere forms were carved as everyday instruments and came into being long before the designer ever appeared.
MK: Currently, in addition to my architectural work, I’m designing pots, kitchen knives, cutting boards, iron kettles as far as kitchen tools go, in addition to furniture and stationery. As for materials, it’s a mix of wood, iron, and bamboo.
Backstory Credits: Photos and Words by Stevenson Aung, Translation by Greg Lekich