Modern Design Lessons from Ancient Japan


As we look ahead with enthusiasm to a future filled with wearable technology, haptic interfaces, augmented reality and smart everything, we must also be mindful to look back and take some lessons from the innovations and wisdoms of the past. Natural dye techniques, wood preserving methods, needle crafts, slow surface design techniques, the working & tooling of natural materials, and living in harmony with nature in order to achieve wellbeing are just a few lessons (as if that’s not enough!) from ancient Japan, along with restraint and simplicity.

These are important learnings from an ancient culture which we should value and explore. When designers are inspired and influenced by the past they can be motivated to produce not only some of their best work; but also some of their most desired work. Below are a few stunning examples of contemporary products that pay homage to Japan's ancient craft skills.

The skills, the knowledge and experience of past craftsmen will increasingly influence design trends through 2017 and beyond. Ancient crafts such as Sashiko and Shou Sugi Ban to the use of Indigo (a color that will be very important in 2017), the unique products shown have been made with passion, care and respect.

And they provide you with an insight into important design features of future trends for Interiors.

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  1. The DALMA chair by design trio CARAPACE uses Shou Sugi Ban, an ancient Japanese technique that preserves the wood, making it robust and durable. The wood undergoes a charring process and is then washed and brushed with water to remove excess soot, before natural oil is applied to seal it. Amazingly, this technique was traditionally used for the cladding of buildings and in some areas of Japan, still is.
  2. The magical glow of Ryosuke Fukusada's limited edition Wooden Light Bulb (available from LEDON), is simply beautiful. These lights are made using the traditional Japanese Rokuro technique: the bulbs are handmade by turning pine on a lathe and carving away until the bulb is between 2-3mm thick. An LED light is then placed inside the shell. The resulting bulb looks solid when off, but when switched on, a warm glow shines through the woods grain.

    Watch this VIDEO to see exactly how they are made in Kyoto.

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  1. The Sashiko Leather Tray is handmade by the wonderfully talented Etsy seller Joey of SubconsciousCrafts, based in Rennes, France. Sashiko (meaning ‘little stabs’) is a form of decorative running stitch technique from Japan. Traditionally used to reinforce points of wear, or to repair worn places or tears with patches. Usually white cotton thread stitched on traditional indigo blue cloth gives sashiko its distinctive appearance, but here Joey uses hand-stitched white thread on vegetable hand-dyed tanned leather to create this unusual tray, assembled via corner snap buttons.
  2. The Blue & White Beaker by South African-based ceramicist John Newdigate uses a very similar method to Shibori (the Japanese resist-dye technique described in point 7) but here John uses wax and cobalt oxide on porcelain instead of indigo and cotton/linen.
  3. The Mökki lamp-pot by architect-designer Caterina Moretti of Peca mimics the shape of a house surrounded by a mini-landscape that the end consumer designs. It pays homage to Zen Gardens and the art of Bonsai. Hand carved from White Onyx & Carrara Marble and with an LED light, it is a pot that gives life, light and a sense of wellbeing.

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  1. The Ki-oke Stool by OeO Design Studio fuses the fine tradition of Kyoto woodcrafting with Western sensibilities. The result is an object of beauty which also pays homage to traditional bucket making in Japan. Handcrafted in Japan by Shuji Nakagawa, they are available in Japanese cypress (sawara) and in a limited edition of Japanese cedar (jindai-sugi) with a natural, 2000-year-old patina.
  2. The Shibori Tie-Dye Pillow from Posh Living is hand dyed and custom made especially for you when you place an order. Shibori (meaning "to squeeze or wring") is an ancient Japanese tie-dying resist technique (the earliest known example dates from the 8th century) using methods to bind, stitch, fold, twist, gather or compress cloth so the dye (usually indigo) can't reach certain areas and therefore patterns are created. There is much that modern design and designers can and does take from the ancient cultures and crafting skills around the world and long may this continue. For now enjoy those from Japan and the East, they will figure prominently in interiors for the next period in time.