It has been too long since we even mentioned our design heroes on our blog. Looking around our home, there are a few obvious candidates but there is one who really emulates our philosophies design and that is Yanagi Sori.
Why do you like Yanagi’s work Hiro?
“What’s not to like about his work? I first came across his name when I started studying product design at uni, and ever since then he’s been one of my favourite designers. Everything he has designed is absolutely functional and beautiful. The proportions are masterly and the balance is perfect. His objects are ergonomic, soft and kind to look at and to touch. I like Yanagi’s hands-on approach to designing. He had incredible knowledge and understanding of materials and this really shows in the objects he designed. Sit on his Butterfly stool – it feels right. Use one of his forks, it feels right. Yanagi’s design is unpretentious, warm and honest. Design for everyone that is affordable, accessible, durable, high quality and timeless. Sadly his work is sold at somewhat of a premium in UK, but much of his kitchenware are commonly seen in normal ‘non-designer’ shops and make their way into the homes of many across Japan. He is a master of designing everyday objects.”
When I look at photos of Yanagi Sori, I feel my face lift into a smile. I can’t help it. A little old man with his lived-in face, the lines of many smiles radiating from his portrait. Even though I never knew him, he feels comfortable and familiar and I wonder how he managed to embody this same level of warmth, comfort and familiarity into the products that he designed for the home.
The more I learn about Yanagi Sori, the more I feel that I am learning about what the essence of design is. He drew inspiration from many areas including traditional aspects of Mingei philosophy as well as the idealist modern thinkings of Le Corbusier. Speaking of his relationship with Le Corbusier, I read this in Casa Brutus and it’s stayed with me.
One of our most cherished household items is Yanagi’s Butterfly Stool, manufactured in Japan by Tendo Mokko. Unlike many of the furniture items Hiro has introduced into our home, I instantly liked this one. Its perfect silhouette, gentle curves and sublime material all worked their magic on me and more than a decade later I still marvel at it each time I walk passed, plop a bundle of fresh washing on it, or sit on it.
The Butterfly stool was designed by Yanagi in 1954 after he visited the Eames’ who introduced him a new and innovative process of bending plywood. Excited about its possibilities he returned to Japan and designed the stool. It took 5 years of working and research into the properties of the material before proper manufacturing of the the stool begun.
Yanagi seems to make me smile a lot. Because I also smile when I spot his objects in the homes of the great designers like Perriand for example and even in Walter Gropius’ home in USA. More recently, he seems to have worked his way into the hearts of Tom Dixon and Jasper Morrison who also appreciate his methods and abilities as a designer.
Everyday we eat with cutlery, use a ladle, saucepan, coaster and fish slice that Yanagi Sori designed. These things together with the stool have become part of our lives. We enjoy growing older with these objects. Unconsciously, unpretentiously they add beauty and richness to our everyday life by just fulfilling their function. To us this is the essence of good design.
Yanagi Sori’s design portfolio extends much further than what we can have in our home. One day, we hope to travel across Japan when we can see some of his more architectural innovations.
We did however manage to visit his shop in an unassuming quiet backstreet in central Tokyo. The shop was tiny, humble and easily missed. If you are even in Tokyo, into design or just want to buy some really well designed timeless things for your home, this is a must visit. Yanagi’s work can be found in many shops throughout Japan but this is the only one that was under his direct management till he died in 2011.
Yanagi Shop. Edelhof Building. 1F 8 Hoshino-cho. Shinjuku-ku. Tokyo. 160-0003. 7 minute walk from Yotsuya Station.
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