David’s journal

My Pictures of Japan

Since 1996 I have made over 70 visits to Japan. During this time I have taken 1000's of pictures of everyday life. Japanese bathroom ceramic ware maker TOTO invited me to curate a small collection of these photographs for their 100th year anniversary during Clerkenwell Design Week in London. These photographs became the centre piece of an exhibit at TOTO's London showroom. You can see more photos on our Instagram site.


David’s journal

Where Tokyo lives

Only a few stops from Akihabara or Ueno on the Yamanote line Nippori station is a typical suburb of Tokyo. Or for that matter any Japanese major city. This April I visited for the first time in a long while the wonderful hardware shop Yanaka Matsunoya where you can buy endless amounts of 'old style' Japanese and Asian hardware items. My particular favourites are their own brand canvas bags called Plain which are bit like the Kyoto company Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu's traditional canvas bags, and also the many brooms and natural fibre baskets. This place is always busy but a must visit if you are in Tokyo. Its a less curated version of Londons Labour and Wait. While the shop is great, these neighbourhoods are the soul of Japan where you can glimpse the locals going about their business and hear everyday conversations in the coffee shops and markets. A great way to spend a few hours away from the hustle of business life.  


David’s journal

Snape Maltings, Suffolk

We just spent a week staying near the Suffolk coast in Snape. Snape Maltings is best known as an arts complex starting in the mid-1800's. The brick and slate buildings are now Grade II listed and one of the few remaining Maltings complexes in Britain. In the 1960’s Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears created one the finest concert halls in the world in the largest Malthouse. Here music, dance and the arts are celebrated throughout the year including Britten’s great classics to the fun and festivity of the August Proms. There is also the lovely Dovecot art studio, pictured here, which is a metal box built beautifully inside an existing building. While we were visiting an exhibit by Maggie Hambling was being shown. In the grounds of the Maltings sculptures by Hepworth, Moore and others lie in contrast to the beautiful wetlands where you can see Starlings flocking in the evening. Read more here and you can see more pics here.


David’s journal

Tokyo Edo Museum

Edo means estuary and is the old name for Tokyo. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan from early 1600's to late 1800's. Edo was a thriving, bustling and most likely dangerous place. This rather brutally ugly 90's museum documents this period and much more upto present day Tokyo. Ugly on the outside its pretty amazing on the inside with immaculate scale models of early Edo life and real live scale buildings from the latter period of Edo. Its well worth a visit to bone up on your Japanese history and to see some amazing artifacts. There was also an exhibition about Yokai - ghostly creatures used to explain unexplainable daily events - while I was visiting. Yokai are widely thought to be the precursors to many games such as Pokemon and are key in Japanese folklore. Fascinating stuff and another real insight to the Japanese mind. As if I needed anymore ! Read more about the museum here. And you can see a few extra pics here


David’s journal

Toyota Museum of Industry and Technology, Nagoya, Japan

This Museum was somewhat of a revelation for me. I am not a big Toyota fan but this museum maps out the history of the Toyoda family (Toyota being the automotive brand name). The Toyoda family started out by making textile machinery closely following, developing, improving and perfecting the machines we were making in the UK in the 19th century. After success came a slow down in the textile trade and the son of Toyoda, after travelling overseas and seeing the growth of the car, realised there was a market in Japan. It was just after the Great Kanto Earthquake and transport was necessary to rebuild. Although he didnt know how to build a car, he had an amazing innovative spirit and decided if he were to try anything he may as well try the biggest challenge. And he did...and we know it paid off. When you visit this place there are a few things you realise. Despite being rather conservative and over detailed focused these days, the Japanese were incredible risk takers and visionaries in the early-mid part of the last century, in the same way some of the Silicon Valley companies are now. And what a pity the British textile industry pioneers didnt have the same ability to think laterally and move in a new direction as the Toyota family did. The museum tells both stories of the Toyota family - the textile success and the automotive success. It is filled with demos of textile machinery, manufacturing processes and even car assembly. Its fabulous, and only 10 mins from Nagoya Station. Find out more about the museum here and see a few more pics here.


David’s journal

Helsinki - At the Junction of Russia and Europe

Nicole and I just spent a few days in Helsinki. Our first time in Finland we were struck by, compared to Sweden, Denmark and Norway, how much Finland is at the crossroads of Russia and Europe. This is not surprising given its history but can be seen in all parts of life. The architecture is littered with Russian Onion domed rooftops (so much you spend the whole time looking up), the fashion and crafts are somewhere between Scandic simplicity and rugged Russian agrarian. But the overwhelming sense is of the outdoors, people who are comfortable with themselves and where they are, and despite their mordernity it seems the Fins are as in much contact with the past and its values as they are the future. Great coffee and pastries too. You can see some pics here.


David’s journal

Welcome to English Pottery

After the best coffee and breakfast at the Bakery On The Water Nicole and I visited the Cotswold Pottery Studio as highlighted in a previous post. We were delighted to find this book in Japanese loosely titled Welcome to English Pottery. It highlights the best potters working in the UK as well as introducing the Tokyo based outlet for English pottery called Gallery St.Ives. If you read Japanese or just like the pictures its highly recommended and I am not sure there is something similar in English ? Of course we couldnt help picking up some more pieces for home ! 


David’s journal

Two Days at IDS, Cologne

I just spent two days at the International Dental Fair in Cologne, Germany. Its not a fetish thing although I suspect it is for some visitors. I was there with our client Sunstar, the Japanese oral care company. Its a curious event full of videos of oral surgery, shiny tool suppliers, holographic visions of the mouths inner workings and some really fascinating props for dentists to practice their art. These skulls with flexible rubber cheeks are perhaps my favourite and potential future fetish. Joking aside the manufacturing quality of these is unbeleivable as is expected of medical products. Outside of the show Cologne was lovely in the early Spring sunshine. With the iconic Cathedral's double towers repeated wherever I looked. 


David’s journal

Forget The Design Festival Go To The Cotswolds

Nicole and I were just in the Cotswolds on a break, but ironically considering our work were surrounded by Japanese tourists (very nice). We found our way to the Cotswold Pottery Studio run by John and Jude Jelfs. A sucker for pottery we bought some lovely pots by John which are inspired by Bernard Leach (of the Eastern School of ceramics) and Hamada Shoji. All are very colourful with beautiful functional forms but particularly nice (for me) are the Tenmoku glazes which in this case are fired in a soda kiln adding a yellow to the deep brown red colour. While people are whooping about the Design Festival currently on in London...beautiful, functional and long lasting work is available all year round right on our doorsteps. If you are in the area please visit. 

 

 


David’s journal

IQ84

I was just in Japan with my colleague Aki. As is my resolution this year, I managed to get away for the weekend. Lake Chuzenji (Chuzenjiko) is just outside Nikko in a mountainous region about 1200 feet above sea level and in the shadow of Mount Nantai. It is a lot cooler than Tokyo's current temperature of 33-35 degrees. I stayed in a Onsen resort which turned out to be a very Japanese get away. On arrival I specified my dinner and breakfast timing, then after a thorough (and I mean thorough) guide of the premises I put on my blue (workwear colour) yukata suit used for outside of my room and went for a walk around the grounds, searching for the monkeys, and then went to soak in the natural bath. It was unbelievably relaxing. As I had my (set) dinner surrounded by people all wearing the same blue yukata suits I at first thought of Wells's 1984 (or IQ84 as in the Murakami version) and his ideas of regimented clothes and mind thought. After leaving I reflected that this regimentation is exactly what made me feel relaxed. I didnt need to think about anything but food, bathing and staring at the lake. 


David’s journal

Old Town, Holt

Nicole and I were in Norfolk last week enjoying the endless skies, beaches, nature and wonderful food. But I had an ulterior motive which was to visit my favourite British clothing maker Old Town and order a couple of new jackets. We discovered them a few years ago and fell in love with the idea - hand made working/utility clothes, designed and made in the UK. Its housed in a lovely shop in the town of Holt near the North Norfolk coast. A big part of the experience is travelling there and choosing the clothes with the help of the wonderful Marie while you can hear the sewing machines being operated upstairs as Will the designer is overseeing the making. After finding the right size, design and fabric around 6 weeks later a lovely brown box arrives with the finished piece. The feel of the place and products is both old and new, but unmistakenly British or European in feeling. I cant wait to get the new pieces. A picture of my Stanley jacket (taken in Kyoto) is shown here. And you can see a wonderful film about Old Town produced by Nick Hand from his SlowCoast series.  


David’s journal

Countryside, Old Friend, Furniture

I was in Japan a couple of weeks ago. For a change I had some free time to visit ex Division member Yuya who is now living and working in Gifu prefecture. Gifu is an hour or two away from Nagoya, in the middle (chubu) part of the country. I took the rather old fashioned but lovely Meitetsu line to Shin Unuma and was greated by views of Mountains (still with snow) and wide flowing rivers. We drove into the surrounding hills to visit the Mino Ceramics park. It was designed by architect Isozaki Arata and while a little brutal for my taste, included a beautiful tea house and commanded incredible views of the surrounding area. It was a sunny mid-March day and the air was crisp. As you might imagine a day in the Alps.

After various stops for local food (great Tonkatsu) and coffee etc, we visited Yuya's new company called Noda Furniture. It is in an area we might call chou-inaka (deep in the country) but the furniture is far from this in feeling. The pieces are comfortable and modern, perhaps like the Japanese countryside and people themselves. The detail and quality communicate the now usual (for me) attention to detail and construction, fitting uniquely into Japanese taste and lifestyle. One or two shots from my day are here. 


David’s journal

Design We Don’t See

We have been doing a lot of work on our house recently and the builders often leave their tools around the place. I found these wonderful building aids call backpackers, which are used to accurately space building materials. For example to support a ceiling 1mm at one side but 5mm at the other, they place the backpacker behind to make these minor adjustments (picture enclosed shows). But the point is these are lovely objects, colourful and each one unique in shape and size and they all have the mm thickness moulded into the surface. Versatile and a great example of design we dont usually see, like a magpie I can't stop collecting them...


David’s journal

Leica X2

A year ago I reluctantly traded in a Leica Digilux 2 for the X2. I have only just got around to posting some of the shots. Its an absolute delight to use daily. Small enough to carry all the time (the camera you carry is the best camera) but good enough optics for almost any situation. I use it to both record things I see and when I have the chance to compose and play with. These shots are from its first outing in Japan last February. From a design view point its beautiful, and shares so much with the original Leica's. I love shots with some kind of rythmn, order or shape. With or without people, I dont care. Just love to play and the X2 allows me to do this without getting in the way. 


David’s journal

Options Luggage

At Narita airport I saw this man checking in his luggage. It was the Options luggage range from Carlton which I worked on as a young designer at ASA designers in the early 90's and was launched in 1995. It was pretty beaten up, but the owner said he loves and uses it almost constantly. It won a D&AD award at the time and in its first incarnation was a revolutionary shape with a unique locking system. I have one hanging on the office wall even now and it was great to see something still in use from all those years ago.  


David’s journal

NOMA

We spend so much time talking about food in the studio because it feels that food is perhaps one of the most exciting creative mediums at the moment. And of course its good to eat ! This is another beautiful book from Phaidon and is about Nordic Cuisine, or Nordisk Mad, or as in the title NOMA. It portrays very well (through just amazing photography), what we know is also important to Scandinavian design, ie a strong connection to nature's beauty. Every page is a minimalist dream with sparce yet richly detailed looking dishes. You can feel the connection of what is on the plate to where it came from. Something hard to feel when you visit the supermarket. Next to the elBulli book, this is for us another great inspirational design book of the year.

 


David’s journal

Wonderful Antwerpen

We just took a short trip and creative recharge to Antwerp. Our main reason was a long love (especially for Nicole) of the Antwerp Fashion six: Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkerbergs and Marina Yee who came to fame in the late 80's. Aside of looking at their work, we also had a chance to look around this great city. We walked endlessly around the cosy street squares, visited some of the famous and incredibly inspiring landmarks such as the Plantin Moretus Museum (an incredible printing house, museum), the new MAS museum and the MoMu where they are holding an exhibit of Walter Van Beirendonck's work (a must see). If Antwerp is not on your radar it should be. From a cultural point of view and as a place to relax its fabulous. More about Walter here

 

 


David’s journal

In Praise of the GX200

A self confessed lover of cameras, owning many digital and film variants, I want to praise the Ricoh GX200. I bought this camera 2 years ago when I could no longer find a Contax TVS digital (a beauty) and it hasn't left my side since. Long an admirer of this classic allrounder, having used it both out and about for leisure and for most of the rough studio shots you see in this website, I have fallen in love with it. Ricoh (who we have collaborated with) have been sensible to keep the design as it is and to incrementally change the spec over the years, based on feedback. It feels like a proper camera, with thoughtful details like a space for AAA batteries in case you are out and about and run the rechargeable down. So intuitive. Other makers have been all over the map in terms of market focus and features etc, but this camera has stayed this way simply because its good, an unusual sentiment these days.


David’s journal

Creativity means not copying

A day at elbulli, is not a design book per se. But, this is the most inspirational design book I have read in a long time. Elbulli is known as one of the most creative restaurants in the World, based in Spain its Chef Ferran Adria is revered amongst his comtemporaries. What's amazing about this beautiful book by Phaidon is its relevance to design and design process. The experimental, prototyping approach is fantastic - it only opens for six months of the year to its guests, the rest of the time they develop new dishes, processes and techniques in their lab. The creative direction is guided by experience, intuition and experimentation. How many designers dare say that these days ? (well we do but)....more likely you will hear "we did it before and it worked, the research told us....or we do it like Dieter Rams because we like him..." The book is a collection of lovely images charting a day at elbulli contrasted with their thoughts on creativity in cuisine, even if you dont like cooking go and buy it. My favourite (of many) quotes from this is 'Creativity means not copying'. 


David’s journal

Wonderful String System

The eternal problem of finding nice shelving is easily solved (as we did) with the string system. It was designed in 1949 by Swedish architect Nils Strinning and his wife Kajsa for a competition held by Bonnier's Public Library. Designers will talk about the Vitsoe 606 which is of course a classic but significantly more expensive and for us a bit too sober. The process of coating the wire side frames with plastic was developed by Strinning for the Elfa system of wire baskets and is used here to great effect. It comes in many different finishes and colours, is easy to install and customise as your needs change. More here

 


David’s journal

Paul Kelley Furniture Designer

In Seoul recently I met a furniture Designer, Maker called Paul Kelley. After chatting it turned out that we live within a couple of miles of each other in London and have since become friends. To call Paul a furniture maker is a bit misleading - he is an artist, craftsman and designer, started life as a guitar maker, counts Paul Smith amongst his clients and is inspired by the likes of Donald Judd and Joseph Albers. His work combines geometric form, precious materials and strong contrasting colours. It is at once simple, complex, sculptural and functional and we think is basically beautiful. He has a long list of star studded clients. A recent example of his work enclosed. More here

 


David’s journal

Made in Cley

During a recent trip to Norfolk we visited a wonderful ceramic studio and shop in Cley-next-the-Sea. We found some beautiful ceramic dishes which have a circular bottom and a subtle soft-square top. And we were excited by two glaze types: ilmenite a speckled green finish and Tenmoku a traditional Japanese finish whose meaning is heavens eye. Wonderfully simple and enjoyable shapes, made by hands, usable forever. More here

 


David’s journal

The Flavour Thesaurus, by Niki Segnit

What a gem this book is. It was recently given to Nicole as a gift and she can’t put it down. Its format and design is beautifully classic with a clear, modern language that just makes you want to get creative in the kitchen. The concept is simple, taking basic flavours and exploring both classic (apple and walnut) and intriguing ( lemon and beef ) pairings. The result is part food history, part memoir and part recipe book. 


David’s journal

Nytt Rom Magazine

I was in Oslo recently and found this wonderful magazine - Nytt Rom or New Room in English. Its a refreshingly uncomplicated design journal with four paper issues and two online versions a year. Really beautiful interiors and products are shown including introductions to creators perhaps not so well known outside Scandinavia. If you like Northern European design (which we do) then you will love this. More here

 


David’s journal

A Red Rice Spoon

When I am in Tokyo I often visit Living Motif in the Axis Building, Roppongi. Its full of great stuff and I usually try to pick up some Sori Yanagi cutlery to add to our growing collection of stainless steel ‘Martian’ flatware - its just beautifully simple stuff from my favourite Japanese designer. But this time I saw this great rice spoon with a painted red handle. Designer unknown but a simple and somehow luxurious version of the ubiquitous Japanese every day item. And just as well we needed a new one. More here

 


David’s journal

Brionvega TS522

While in Rome we came across one of those lovely backstreet designer gear shops and in the window was the re-released Brionvega radio designed by Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso in 1964. We had to buy it. Its a lovely product to own, still looks and sounds great and is more unique than anything currently on the market. And it doesn’t have an i- pod anywhere near it. Read more

 


David’s journal

Centrale Montemartini, Rome

Nicole and I were in Rome recently and visited this wonderful museum on Via Ostiense. Its off the usual tourist route and as such is blissfully quiet - but its incredible. It was Rome’s first power station, complete with two huge generators as a backdrop for wonderful Roman sculpture. An absolutely stunning site and well worth a few hours of your day. More here