If you remember our trend story on this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan in the July issue, you’ll know that Japanese designers are finally making their presence felt on the international stage. Western furniture behemoths are beginning to partner Japanese designers for calm, enlightened pieces that will be welcome in the home of anyone with even a lick of aesthetic discernment. Arper landed Ichiro Iwasaki, Fritz Hansen chose studio Nendo, and the list goes on. But if you don’t want to take our word for it, take Apple’s.
Amid all the star pieces by Poltrona Frau, Arco and Eero Saarinen that populate the newly built US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) Apple Park, one Japanese design has been quietly doing its job – being both alluring and comfortable – without any fanfare, and that is the Hiroshima chair by design maestro Naoto Fukasawa.
The gentle curvature of the chair’s back, the graceful tapering of the sides of the arms, the roominess of the seats and the satiny smooth finishing of the wood show that while this chair was produced in large quantities by Japanese manufacturer Maruni, each still requires hand-finishing. Thousands of these were ordered for the terrace dining area and visitor centre of Apple Park, with the finishing customised to match the rest of the furniture in the main cafe.
Says Fukasawa of chief design officer Jonathan Ives’ choice: “I think Apple’s philosophy isn’t restricted to the products it manufactures, but also extends to its furniture, premises and way of working. Though it’s a high-tech company, it has inherited from Steve Jobs a spirit of loving nature. It’s well-acquainted with that spirit, even before the introduction of the Hiroshima.”
The Hiroshima series (which also includes tables) was released in 2008 and named after the city it was created in. “Since we wished to make an iconic chair, I gave it a well-known name. I also wanted it to be a symbolic name for peace,” he says.
And it’s not a stretch to make the claim to icon status. The Hiroshima chair already had a fan base here in Singapore long before Apple debuted them this year. You may have spotted them in dining establishments like the former Hashida Sushi, Les Amis’ Jinjo and Hachi at National Gallery. At $1,500 a piece for the basic beech model with no cushion (and going up to $3,500 for a leather-cushioned, high version), the owners clearly knew what they were paying for.
“The wood’s natural grain showcases the chair’s history, like fingerprints. Despite the design, each piece is unique,” says Andrew Tan, founder of Atomi and exclusive distributor of the chair in Singapore. “It’s a good investment. Once you sit on it, it grows on you.”
Combining robustness with timeless design, the Hiroshima series sought to highlight the beauty in everyday objects and materials, which is why there is no paint or varnish on the wood.
“It was challenging to enable mass production of this series,” says Fukasawa. “Combining machine processing with the difficulties of handcrafted scraping wasn’t easy; it was the industrialisation of craft skills.”
But it seems he’s mastered it, since his 2015 Kamuy wooden furniture collection for Conde House, while less streamlined in shape, followed a similar philosophy.
His trademark minimal approach isn’t restricted to wood. Naoto Fukasawa Design has numerous global clients, from Samsung to B&B Italia, but Fukasawa is best known for his work with Muji, the Japanese retail company famed for pure, minimalist designs. Some of his products, including the Muji CD Player, Plus Minus Zero humidifier and Neon mobile phones, have been immortalised in the New York Museum of Modern Art, for his ability to anticipate beauty that people are otherwise unaware of, and appreciate the “super normal”.
He says: “My philosophy is to embody things according to this form that people are unconscious of, and to produce a thoroughly beautiful product.”