When we first moved to New York as students, somehow managing to find an apartment in the East Village, we quickly began to notice how the pace of the city affected every part of our natural routines. We were eating out more, and much more quickly than we did in Alberta, weaving our way through the seemingly infinite corridors of downtown restaurants. The affect the city had on how we would eat, while still remarkable, was somewhat predictable. However, the ritual we became most fascinated by, and perhaps the most indicative of The City itself was our morning coffee.
When we arrived we knew nothing of New York coffee culture. Our exposure to coffee in Canada had been ordering a Tim Horton’s Double-Double back in university. Two creams, two sugars. We found ourselves becoming obsessive about coffee. So much so that when our friends and family came to visit they would inevitably comment on this routine as cultural proof that we had adopted New York’s customs.
Years later, in 2015, we opened our storefront a block away from our first apartment in the city. That building had been torn down and replaced with luxury condos, much as these things go in The City. But our obsession with coffee remained. Gasoline Alley Coffee, a small coffee shop between Lafayette and Mulberry with no seats that isn’t much more than a passage through a narrow block with an espresso counter became the administrator of our AM—and often PM— fix. Their specific eight ounce cup began to feel so familiar in our hands that when we would make coffee ourselves at home we wouldn’t feel nearly as satisfied. That’s when everything clicked.
We had always wondered why the classic “We Are Happy To Serve You” blue and white Greek coffee cup became synonymous with the image of New York. It wasn’t simple nostalgia. It was something much deeper. That cup was a cultural artifact, something that would always feel familiar to anyone who had lived through a specific era of The City. We had seen it reinterpreted by artists and designers over and over again, and only now did we realize it’s significance. The New York Coffee Cup was an inconspicuous signifier of one having crossed over to life in The City.
At the time of this realization we had been working with wood turning artisans in Japan. They specialized in turning mugs, cups and vessels, carved from single pieces of wood. We approached them about creating a perfect wooden analogue of our favorite paper coffee cup. They welcomed the challenge of producing such a deceptively complex form.
We went back and forth with numerous iterations, getting the walls of the cup even thinner, refining the rolled rim to the exact thickness that had become familiar on our lips, carving out the bottom a few millimeters to match the base of the original. We debated finishes and sheens; arriving at a subtle protective coating that won’t stain from daily use. The end result is so uncanny that it even feels like the paper original in your hands, making a similar sound as you rotate it between your fingers.
It’s difficult to comprehend that both objects started as the same natural material. One came to existence through industrial production; the other through artisanal mastery and craft. However, the wooden interpretation has a liminal aura to it. It doesn’t lose any of the cultural familiarity of the disposable New York coffee cup. In fact it does the opposite. It captures the exact feeling of holding a paper cup in your hands, with one difference: it pushes back at you. When you squeeze it, it doesn’t break or crumple, it bounces back and responds, just as wood does when you work with it. The wooden cup has its own lasting personality that will both be forever evocative of this moment in New York’s daily cultural history, while also expressing its own as it travels through its long life with each specific owner.
We are proud to share this object to the world, and hope it will become a lasting artifact, evolving beyond our own journey through the landscapes of New York, and Japanese craft.
Wood Cup available here.
Videography: Owen Smith-Clark
Exhibitions, like our most recent, Forging Shadows, are an intersection of an artisan’s career work and a curator’s point of view. Each artisan’s breath of work is so large and varied that a variety of exhibitions can be created with an artist. As curators it is important to be able to communicate why we make the decisions we make to best represent the collection and concept.
Takayoshi Narita’s collection is composed of two materials – wrought-iron which is matte black in color, and stainless steel, which is matte silver in color. Displaying his wares and preparing for the exhibition proved to be both challenging and enjoyable. The challenge was to represent a wide enough range of items in our gallery, in solely two materials. Typically, our artists create works in one specific genre, like flatware or teaware. But Narita-san creates cookware, tableware, flatware, display items and hardware. To be able to give each group the attention it deserves, but also create a cohesive exhibition was at the forefront of our thoughts. We chose to switch our fixtures to a long, low center table to focus on all the specialty cookware selected for the exhibition, flanked by his tableware on our shelves in purely black and purely silver areas. The flatware was styled with the tableware pieces, sometimes in a contrasting manner with quiet flower vases hanging, and positioned throughout the exhibition. We thought the dynamics of the presentation would prove to be both informative and best represent his works.
Color and materials aside, what struck us immediately about Narita-san’s works was the texture created by the continual heating and hammering of his metal pieces. We curated incredibly simple forms because we felt the dominant focus should be on these unique textures and we chose not to select pieces with elaborate edges or decorative elements for this reason.
Each exhibition takes a long time to coordinate because typically a solo artisan is crafting the pieces individually. Often they are making works right up until their flight to New York. The day of the opening reception is always relieving as it feels like the culmination of months of work and preparation for both the artisan and us. As tradition goes, the artisan usually comes the morning of the opening to look over the way the exhibition has been installed. We were delighted to find out that Narita-san said it was the best display of his collection he has ever seen.
We felt a video would best showcase the process from our point of view. Here is a glimpse into the final touches of the exhibition installation leading up to when the first guests arrived on opening night.
Videography: Owen Smith-Clark
We had a great time during last week’s Forging Shadows exhibition. Although Takayoshi Narita works in only two materials, stainless steel and wrought-iron, the textures on his works are so compelling and full of character it makes installation of the show a blast because of it. It was the first time seeing the store in all metal works. A glimpse into the installation process can be seen in this video.
When setup is complete, we always take photos of the works on display before the opening night while everything is still intact. Often it feels like the last chance we’ll get to hold some of the pieces. That is especially true for this exhibition as the textures on the metal surfaces were so unique they looked vastly different from one to another. It was easy to get attached to specific ones for that reason.
We’ve been frequently using the pan Narita-san made us during our studio visit and its truly remarkable how thoughtfully designed and well crafted they are. The rivets on the frying pan that attaches the handle to the basin absorb the heat so the majority of heat doesn’t transfer up the handle. More importantly it’s simply a better cooking experience! Food tastes better due to the even heat distribution and high iron content, and the pans are so lightweight. It was nice seeing people come multiple times throughout the week who had made similar observations after using their pan for the first time.
If you follow our Journal, you knew this photo was coming. It’s not an exhibition opening without the obligatory team photo on Extra Place alley! This time we have so many wonderful people to thank – especially Aya Nihei for her help with coordination, Owen Smith-Clark for videography and installation, the team at Studio Newwork for their beautiful print materials, Paul Lewis for the exhibition playlist, John Medley for the fixture build out, the team at Burrow for catering, Armando Rafael Moutela on product photography and Hazuki Uno for Care Manual illustrations. Also special thanks to Joshua Skirtich, Yina Shan, Daniel Chmielewski, Stefan Ayon, and Nau Kim for their assistance on opening night.
Music has always been a part of our exhibitions as sound can set the tone for an event as much as any other sense. When we experienced Takayoshi Narita’s making process during our studio visit, we couldn’t help but remember the sounds that filled the metal workshop as he hammered a pan into shape. Paul Lawrence Lewis curated the tracks for our exhibition, focusing on balancing heavy hitting percussions with rigid vocals, sharp notes and smooth melodies that mimic the production process of the metal works.
Listen to the full-length version above or find the playlist here.
We have an exhibition coming up with Takayoshi Narita of Studio Tint – a rare kind of artisan, his mastery in wrought-iron is practically a dying art. For this reason we are incredibly excited to be hosting Narita-san and bringing his works to New York. Even more excited to be sharing his process that we had the pleasure of taking in during a visit to his studio in the town of Minakami in Japan.
On this particular visit, Narita-san picks us up from the Jomō-Kogen train station dressed liked he just stepped out of the workshop. Every article represents his craft, and his devotion to it, like a true shokunin, master of his profession.
We were being invited to step into his world for a day and part of his daily routine is a stop at the local fruit and vegetable farm. This season the bounty is blueberries and corn!
Another stop on the path to his studio is a restaurant and shop called Macchie where Narita-san is a regular for lunch. The place is in a neighboring village called Takumi no Sato.
Macchie offers a beautiful selection of books and matchboxes for purchase and serves dishes on Studio Tint pieces. Narita-san built some of the furniture in the restaurant area including a custom iron fireplace.
After lunch we head to his workshop, which is hard to miss because the heavy iron door is clearly made by Narita-san. He started the studio around 20 years ago in this lush green area to be surrounded by fresh air, counter balancing the sooty nature of metalworking. When we step into the space it becomes apparent how physically intensive the craft is. The tools needed like piles of metal rods, anvils and hammers are hefty and hot air from the coal furnace immediately hits us in the face.
Between blueberry snacking and a tamago egg frying lunch break, Narita-san shows us the fabrication steps from start to finish of a single small frying pan. All the components of the piece are handcrafted so he can only make a maximum of around two per day. He demonstrates how he heat shapes and hammers the surfaces to achieve a unique texture that absorbs light and creates beautiful shadows. He also explains how he transforms the solid rod iron into cooking grade ironware, which requires continuous hand hammering and firing until the final shape is the appropriate thickness to evenly disperse high heat from a stovetop. Being quick is key to the process making it difficult to capture his movements on camera.
Wrought-iron is no longer produced on a commercial scale so Narita-san’s operation doesn’t need to be large. In fact, he produces every part by himself. Even the rivets used to attach the handle. The pieces are measured and inspected for accuracy and he is able to personally control quality.
Above all, the works reveal the hand of the craftsmen, conveying a texture that cannot be commercially manufactured. A texture that is one-of-a-kind, and they all have their own personality. For us, the great handcrafted objects express feeling. When we hold them in our hands they transfer the core of the maker. It’s hard to make a basic everyday object such as a frying pan into a beautiful treasured item but Narita-san is skilled at doing so. Sacrificing neither, functionality and aesthetics are perfectly balanced in his works.
At the end of the demonstration Narita-san surprised us by gifting us the pan we witnessed him make. We knew this pan was going to be with us for generations. It meant so much. Like the first pan purchase for a college freshman, it felt like a pivotal moment but this time we were graduating to an advanced grade of cookware. After living with the pan we’ve grown to love cooking even the simplest of things, like a fried egg, with wrought-iron. There is nothing like the durability and cooking properties of this material and no pan with proportions and a hand-hammered surface as beautiful. We proudly display our Studio Tint pan on an S-hook after each use, the only pan in our kitchen with a story that deserves recognition by all who enter our home.
We wanted to share this video produced by Kamawanu about the making of their tenugui cloths. Since their inception in 1987, the company has been practicing the art of chusen dyeing, a dyeing process that allows for delicate patterns to be replicated with vivid texture and color on both sides of the cloth. The labour-intensive process is depicted beautifully in this video, revealing the surprising amount of steps that go into each hand-dyed cloth.
The Kamawanu tenugui collection can be viewed here.
The sense of smell can be particularly evocative of memory and place. In any metropolis, cultivating a distinct mental space through scent often becomes its personal and necessary ritual. Coming home, and coloring the air with a mild but recognizable aroma can help transition one’s mind from the city’s unpredictable sea of stories to the familiar and constant narrative of one’s own life. Over time, this smell can grow in one’s memory to signify home.
Like getting dressed, or decorating a home, burning incense almost involuntarily becomes a kind of self-portrait. The simplicity of the act itself allows for innumerable variations. Naturally, one’s own ritual comes to reflect their lifestyle.
As incense burns, and its smell steeps in the air, one becomes aware of the passing of time. Thin ribbons of smoke sway through a room, making an invisible imprint both on the space, and one’s memory of it. The home is no longer a solid, linear, bound location but an emotional recollection, full of sensory memories blending together.
Videography: Owen Smith-Clark
View the products here.
Like all silver items, Masanobu Ando’s silver overglaze ceramic tableware takes on a unique patina over time, reflecting its use. The glaze will react to the sulfur in the air, yellowing, darkening, and eventually turning black, in a process called sulfide staining. For some, this aging process is as beautiful as the item itself. While others may wish to maintain the item’s original luster throughout its life. If you find yourself missing the original glow of one of your silver overglaze pieces, or wanting to remove some unwanted marks from it’s surface, the simple instructions below will guide you through the process.
Cleaning Masanobu Ando’s silver overglaze tableware doesn’t require any special tools or chemicals. All you need is some toothpaste and a soft cloth.
First, identify the marks you wish to polish out. These areas will require more attention than the rest of the surface.
Squeeze a healthy amount of toothpaste into a soft cloth and begin polishing the most affected areas.
Starting in the center of the patinated areas, polish in small circles, at a medium-hard pressure—like kneading out a piecrust.
Move outward, evenly covering the surface. The cloth will begin to absorb the toothpaste, feel free to apply more as needed.
Rinse the item in lukewarm water.
You will have to repeat the process multiple times to fully restore the item, but believe us its worth it. The item will still maintain some subtle marks of its natural age.
After the final rinse, dry the item with a soft, clean cloth, and allow to air dry overnight.
If you would like to clean the glaze more permanently, a small amount of specialty silver polish applied in the same manner will quickly remove any marks and stains from your item. But be aware, after using silver polish the glaze will be reluctant to patina for a very long time.
A note on food:
Ando-san’s plates and tableware make for beautiful serving items, especially for hors d’oeuvres and other small appetizers. However, the overglaze reacts more extremely to some foods than others. Vinegar, lemon juice, onions, mustard, and especially eggs will speed up the staining process dramatically.
The White Silver Oval Tray pictured in this care manual can be found here.
As tradition goes, Paul Lawrence Lewis curated the tracks for our recent exhibition. Paul leaned into Masanobu Ando’s collection of CDs discovered during his studio visit to create a playlist that includes seven songs of classic rock and seven contemporary reactions to those songs. Ultimately creating two playlists that interact and intersect. Hope you enjoy.
Listen to the full-length version above or download it here.
The end of our Masanobu Ando exhibition, Shaping the Void, has come and gone. One thing we can all agree on is that the show was one of our best. Here are some highlights from our time with Ando-san and moments from the exhibition.
When Ando-san arrived in New York, one of the first things he did was add finishing touches to some of the works. The more delicate elements like the copper handle on the Silver Teapot were transported from Japan separately and assembled on the spot.
Ando-san is known for several different types of glazes, mostly for his matte whites and metallic silvers. His common metals are resonates of silver platinum and pewter but sometimes include gold. The finished wares are food safe and can be used with hot or cold liquids and food. They can be washed like everyday pottery and much like silver jewelry retain their luster the more they are used.
As someone who is just getting into the comprehensive world of tea, thinking back on our Masanobu Ando exhibition the best part had to have been the abundance of teaware. Everything from teacups and teapots were available and even pieces for what we’d consider more advanced tea drinkers like water disposal containers, teapot warmers, tea funnels, and drainers.
Chawan, vessels used for preparing and drinking tea, are often considered a potter’s masterpiece hence they are some of the hardest works to create. The goal is to make the perfect vessel for enjoying a cup of matcha tea – many elements are considered like good balance, weight, angle of the lip and the shape of the foot. They need to be in good harmony but more importantly feel intuitive to the maker and user. In this way chawan’s are very poetic in nature and to create them is challenging. It was interesting to see which chawan people gravitated towards of the three that were in the exhibition – silver, black or gold.
One of our favourite things at the exhibition was the traveling tea set Ando-san had assembled. The sets include tools and equipment needed to prep and serve three people. The pieces all fit within a small leather case like a puzzle and include custom made textiles for protecting and carrying.
Ayako Kurokawa of Burrow prepared Roasted Green Tea and Short Bread Strawberry Caramel cookies for the tea pairing. For the rest of the night we had our favourite local mochis flowing by Fujiko of Mochi Rin. She took the exhibition concept and ran with it creating marbleized sweet and savoury mochi!
We kept the dining table setup from the tea ceremony for the duration of the show. The new rich brown, oak dining table and dining chairs by Ibazen combined beautifully with Ando-san’s works that have a weathered rustic feel. The playlist Paul Lawrence Lewis created for the exhibition also played throughout the week. We turned it into a CD that Ando-san could add to his large collection at Momogusa. Listen to the playlist here.
Our obligatory Extra Place alley team photo is missing a bunch of people this time but you know who you are! Thank you to everyone who helped out during the exhibition! It takes a lot of hands and help every time we put up a show and are so grateful for everyone who rolls through. In particular thank you to Ando-san and his assistants, Aya Nihei, Owen Smith-Clark, Paul Lawrence Lewis, the team at Studio Newwork, Armando Rafael Moutela, Nau Kim, Ingmar Chen, Joshua Skirtich, Ayako and Wataru and their team at Burrow and Fujiko of Mochi Rin.