The father of Tamen Decor adopted two traditional Japanese carpentry skills into modern design.
1. Yosegi (incorporating patterns with inlaid wood)
2. Tsugite (wood joints in geometric shapes without use of any extra connective material)
We are so glad to have a chance to talk to founder Yoshi Ito about his path from being an in house designer turned independent brand owner, Japanese designer in Brooklyn, New York and the guardian of his own heritage and culture.
NONAGON.style: We would love to know how did you start Tamen Decor? What was your background and experience before Tamen?
Yoshi Ito: I studied sculpture at a college in NYC and then worked under sculptors for a few years as an assistant, Kevin Kelly, and Fiona Westphal
I worked in a contemporary chandelier design firm in NYC called David Weeks studio as a designer and product developer from Dec of 2008 to May of 2015. I did involve his chandelier design work eventually however the original reason why I hired David’s firm was as a sculptor to design wooden toys. During work at David Weeks Studio, I created a million-sales hit product called Cubebot.
Since June of 2015, I started TAMEN (Like above). When I started designing by myself, I was open to any type of product. I started listing what I want to do but what I cannot do. My studio space is tiny so I started thinking something small, but I cannot handle mass production products by myself. So some products which are valuable and fewer minimum quantities of order products were in my mind. Since I’m Japanese, I wanted to adopt Japanese traditional technics in my design and wanted to work with Japanese fabricators.
What is the brand vision of any message you want to convey of TAMEN Design?
TAMEN spells as 多面 in Japanse. “Ta” means many and “Men” means facets or surfaces, as well as scenes or phases. The main concept of TAMEN is I want to make a many-faceted shape (geometric shape) design products that can be used in many scenes of life. My products often could be used in more than one scene like multi-purpose with adopting a transformable feature.
And minimalism and perfect geometry is another concept. I generally like geometric shapes. Usually, people think geometric shapes products are sharp and pointy so they don’t like them. And people think that’s why fabricators like to make more organic shapes. However, the truth is that making geometric shapes products are much harder than organic shape since more accurate finishing is needed. So actually it doesn’t mean that fabricators don’t want to make the geometric products but more likely, fabricators cannot make perfect geometric shape products like mine.
I really like TAMEN products and fabricators. Very perfect minimalism products.
How is the design scene in New York? With your Japanese background in this industry, are there any challenges as well as an advantage at the same time?
As an immigrant, the work situation was generally tough originally, because of language, immigration status, so on. This has nothing to do with an actual design background, however, because of my status, I struggled and worked in many different types of industries in New York. I experienced pretty much the bottom part of New York life when I was young. I could have learned a lot about how other people think about Japanese people or Japan and I could have made a solid vision of my future meanwhile. More I explained New York life as Japanese, I noticed many New Yorkers actually like Japan oriented products, Japanese craftsmen technics or even generally Japanese culture. Now I can tell about what kind of Japanese essence I should add to my design work. I think this is a big benefit as a Japanese designer being in New York.
We can see a lot of wood in your design, is there a reason why you love to use wood so much?
Several reasons. While I was working at the previous company, I worked with wood a lot and I love working with wood generally. As a sculptor, wood is a very easy carving, cutting, even adding. No complex tooling is needed. Creating geometric shapes out of wood is much easier than metal or other materials. Wood is very fun working on.
TAMEN products are inspired by Japanese traditional craftsmen technic. Many Japnese traditional craftsman works are involved in wood. For instance, my stools are inspired by Japanese wood jointly for buildings. If you google Japanese wood joinery you can find lots of unique technics Japanese wood joinery techies. Each one must have different usages but some of them just look beautiful as it is and very interesting shapes. I really don’t want to self-limit only for woodworks, though. I’m open to any other materials in the future. I have several ideas for metal products. I guess I am lucky to do design jobs for international clients such as Bolia.com and WOUD DK, and combine this with running my own brand.
Can you tell us more about The multi-award-winning Yosegi stool and its inspirations?
If you google it Yosegi, you can find traditional Japanese marquetry but that’s just a type of Yosegi. Yosegi literally means a batch of wood is gathered or bundled together. My idea of Yosegi stool is that add up 12 identical diamond-shaped wooden pieces and make an interesting shape of stool. If I added 12 diamond shapes the diamonds create a hexagon shape (from the Top view). And cut each wooden piece into different lengths creates an interesting stool shape of the object. This is the primary concept of the stool.
The main reason, why I chose Jinda Ceder, is this wood is one of the only kinds which naturally has such dark color and very lightweight of wood. The cool feature of Yosegi Stool is that you can nest two each other. It means you have to lift them to do the transformation. The Yosegi stool is made out of solid wood so I had to carefully choose lightweight wood. My first prototype was made out of 100% Japanse Hinoki Cypress (white-colored wood). The prototype looked good and was light enough to fit. However, there was a color request for a darker version from a customer. Unlike ordinal furniture, Yosegi stool cannot dyewood by part and then assemble, nor I dye for finishing because of such complex shape and how it’s made. Especially at the bottom part of the Yosegi stool which has a very interesting but complicated shape. So the only natural color of wood without any dye could be used for Yosegi Stool. Dark-colored wood or light-colored wood.
We would love to know about the special material of Jindai Wood and why would you choose this type of special wood for your creation!
This is a trivia.
There are two families of trees in the world. One is a conifer tree family and the other is broadleaf trees family. The conifer tree is lightweight and has a usually light color. Examples are Cedar, Cypress or Pine, etc. Broadleaf trees family is heavier and they come in both darker and lighter tones, Walnut, Cherry, Ash, etc. Broadleaf tree wood is usually used for furniture popularly. So basically it is almost impossible to find, lightweight and dark color wood without dying. And Jindai Cedar is a very special wood. It’s a just cedar originally but the cedar was buried underground for various reasons for hundreds of years or even thousands of years, and just by chance, a dug before the wood got carbonized. That’s why Jindai Cedar is so dark and lightweight but super expensive. Jindai literally translates to “the generation of the god”.
This is a funny episode. The problem of Jindai Ceder was that first, they don’t exist in Japan much more and second as furniture, it’s too expensive to sell. On the other hand, I realized later that not many people do the Yosegi nexting transformation daily bases anyway. The weight doesn’t have to be that light in the first place. So I looked at some alternative wood in Broadleaf trees family. I found wood from southeast Asia called Nyatoh. Nyatoh has nice darkness in the color and similar weight as walnuts. It’s differently heavier than Ceder but 13kg each of stool is not so bad.
Jindai Ceder version is still available for made by the order base. I have some wood for a few more stools at this point, but I don’t know how long I can keep selling them. Very limited amounts of Jindai Ceder exist in Japan and prices just go higher!
Is there any design product brand or designers that you love or find inspirational?
Not really particular designer but I’m always fascinated and inspired by this type of Japanse traditional toy. It might be hard to imagine the connection between these toys and my furniture, but I came up with Yosegi Stool nesting ideas from these toys.
Are there any future exciting plans or goals that TAMEN is working on that you can share with us?
Yes, still under development but I would like to launch a folding armchair.
Like I said at the beginning I wanted to develop more products by now but I had a very hard time getting approval from my business partner until last year. This made me a lot of delay in my development process. The armchair is differently the next product which I will launch but there are lots of other ideas at the beginning of the stage. I will keep you all updated.
Related Products – Like what you see? Get TAMEN Decor below!
TAMEN Décor Zōgan Enamel Inlaid Wooden Tray – $220.00 – $275.00