Filipino homeowners love shopping for furniture, but are sometimes stumped when presented with a flat-pack assembly kit of a shelving unit with only an Allen Key as a tool. But this new Japanese furniture brand may change the Pinoy homeowner’s mind, and keep him from calling up the neighbourhood manong.
Ishinomaki Laboratory, a Japanese brand that produces ready-made and DIY pieces, recently partnered with Filipino furniture company Lamana. Lamana’s owners Jar and Kaye Concengco originally tapped Ishinomaki Laboratory to import the pieces to the Philippines, but learned of the Japanese brand’s Made in Local initiative, which brings the Laboratory’s designs to the context of the country by using local craftsmen.
The couple soon found themselves coordinating with Ishinomaki Lab’s founder Keiji Ashizawa and his team, learning the lab’s woodworking techniques, and finally creating the pieces in Lamana’s own workshop in Antipolo.
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Furniture born from an earthquake
Even though Ishinomaki’s furniture and decorative pieces have a modern and minimalist aesthetic, the brand has very humble and altruistic roots. In March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, along with a tsunami that devastated most of Japan, with Ishinomaki City as one of the worst-hit areas.
“They were born out of the tsunami and the necessities that happened after, and there was a lot of need for furniture rebuilt,” Jar Concengco relates. “So Keiji [Ashizawa] went back to Ishinomaki to help the people, and instead of helping people individually, he created a workshop where he made tools accessible, timber accessible, and his knowledge accessible. And he taught them how to do it.”
The lab conducted workshops for residents and primary school students, who built furniture pieces using donated wood to replace the ones lacking in the community’s temporary shelters.
Flexible pieces for modern living
One of the first pieces the community made was a simple Ishinomaki Stool. “This stool was made in mind with the tradition of how the Japanese remove their shoes before entering a house,” explains Concengco.
“It’s placed near the entrance, and it’s the right height to be used as a step ladder if you need to reach for something. Two of them can be used as a base of a table. You can see a lot of multifunctionality in them, and these are good for very small homes like an apartment or condo.”
The original design of the stool morphed into other flexible furniture pieces, such as the stacking and space-saving AA stool, and the sturdy communal Kobo Table, which was designed for Ishinomaki City’s first co-working space.
The DIY Experience
Ishinomaki furniture pieces are sold assembled and ready for use, or in easy-to-assemble kits. The kits are kept as simple and as foolproof as possible, giving the end user the enjoyment and satisfaction of building his or her own piece of designer furniture.
The iconic AA Stool, for example, can be sold as a kit with complete wood parts, joints, and other materials. “It comes with materials like sandpaper and wood glue, which you can build yourself and you can build it and repaint it however you want it to,” explains Concengco.
The whimsical Ishinomaki Bird, which is a decorative object that can double as a toy, comes in a kit of solid wood pieces that can be assembled with wood glue, and then left in its natural wood state, or painted to your liking. When you twist the bird’s head, it makes a delightful chirping sound.
Pinoy craftsmanship using Japanese techniques
One of the important parts of Ishinomaki Lab x Lamana’s journey was the training of Filipino craftsmen under the Lab’s workshop leader Takahiro Chiba, who describes our craftsmanship as “…simply excellent,” and that the craftsmen were already thinking of different processes of assembly.
It’s a unique collaboration that makes the final product Japanese, but Filipino as well. “The local maker can utilize the tools and skills of local craftsmen and using a lot of locally available material like the teak and the birch that we see now, and they can create renditions with a local flavor of our fine product,” says Rebekah Cheng, Ishinomaki Lab’s project manager. “We hope to bring that same design ethos to local communities worldwide, and to foster greater creativity and an appreciation for DIY+Design in the Philippines.”