Interview with Makoto Koizumi

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. 

Kaico


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INTRO-KOIZUMI

Makoto Koizumi in his Tokyo based design studio

Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got started in design?

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.

デザインの仕事を始めるまでの、小泉さんの経歴を簡単に教えてください。

1960年に東京で生まれ、東京で育ちました。20歳のころに木工学校に通い、家具の製作を勉強して、その後インテリアデザイナーの事務所で勉強しました。

You are an architect, along with being a product designer. Are there many similarities between your architectural designs and product designs?

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.

小泉さんは建築家でありプロダクトデザイナーでもあります。そのふたつのデザインに共通点はありますか?

建築、プロダクト、全てに関して「生活デザイン」という解釈で活動をしています。日本の生活デザインの概念は50年ほど前に定義された「生活に必要な道具を美しくつ くる」というものです。ですから、建築もプロダクトも同じ視点でデザインを行っています。

Your designs span an impressive variety of materials, do you have a favorite?

MK: I got my education in woodworking, so I prefer using wood.

小泉さんのデザインには、さまざまなマテリアルが用いられています。なかでも特に好きな素材はなんですか?

木工の教育を受けていましたので「木」を好んで使用しています。

KOIZUMI-SPOON

An iconic Koizumi curved bamboo spoon

Whether it’s architecture or product design, “lifestyle design” is the explanation behind everything I do.”    – Makoto Koizumi

01

Koizumi’s sense of humor plays out in the ‘Hamburger’ and ‘Onigiri’ stools that greet visitors at the entrance

What is Japanese design to you and how is it different from design elsewhere?

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.

日本のデザインは、小泉さんにとってどういうものですか? 他の国や地域のデザインとどう違いますか?

本来の日本のデザインは「用の美」ということばがあるように、機能性を備えた必然的な形を突き詰めた結果が「美」という解釈があります。装飾もその必然的な形の上になされるもので「飾り」ではありません。私のデザインもこの流れをくんでいます。ただ、多くの日本のデザインは商業的であり、海外のデザインの流れとおなじだと思います。

In Japan, collaborations between designers and manufacturers are very common. How do you go about choosing who you work with?

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.

日本では、デザイナーと製造者のコラボレーションが一般的です。一緒に働く相手を選ぶ際の基準はありますか?

大きな企業からの仕事は拒否しています。製造者とのコミュニケーションからデザインがスタートしますので、全ての言葉が関わる人全てに伝わるスケールの仕事を好んでいます。

Which other designers do you look up to?

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.

尊敬しているデザイナーはいますか?

同じような価値観をもって活動しているデザイナーとして、ピーターズントーさんを尊敬しています。丁寧に時間をかけ、与えられた環境や条件に向かい合う姿勢が共感できます。デザインという役目は「デザインをしたい」という欲望的なものではなく「依頼」された上で成り立つものだと思っています。ですから、現在「デザインしよう」とおもっているものはありません。

Outside of design, what are some of your interests and passions?

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.

デザイン以外に興味のあることは?

古道具の観察に興味があります。古い生活道具です。デザイナーが出現する前に生まれた道具には、誠実な形が刻まれています。

What are you working on right now? What can we expect from you in the future?

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.

現在、取り組んでいるプロジェクトは? 今後どのような作品が見られるでしょうか?

現在、建築のほかに、キッチンツールとして、鍋、包丁、まな板、鉄瓶、カトラリーなど。その他には家具、ステーショナリー、素材は、木、鉄、竹と様々です。

KOIZUMI-PITCHERS

Prototype pitchers and sketch models

 

KOIZUMI-SPOON-PLATE

A collection of Koizumi bamboo spoons

 

KOIZUMI-STUDIO-CONSTRUCTION

Koizumi and his team carefully inspecting construction on a new studio extension

 

KOIZUMI-STOOL

‘Hamburger’ stool

 

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Special slippers for visitors at the Koizumi studio

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Newly constructed Koizumi studio extension… via Koizumi Studio

Backstory Credits: Photos and Words by Stevenson Aung, Translation by Greg Lekich