Cover The slim backrest of the Torii sofa features vertical quilting and piped detailing that runs along the perimeter of the cushioning

Japanese designer Oki Sato brings his signature mix of clean lines and witty details to the new Torii collection for Minotti

Despite his expansive oeuvre—which runs the gamut of buildings, interiors, furniture, packaging, utensils, bags and even shoes—Oki Sato insists his own home is very bare, “like a prison or gallery”. “There is one bed, some books and my dog,” he quips. It’s hard not to believe the Japanese founder of multidisciplinary studio Nendo, when one looks at his minimal designs.

His unfussy aesthetic makes him an apt collaborator with Italian brand Minotti, for whom Sato designed the elegant Tape collection in 2018. This year, a cultural narrative grounds his new Torii collection for the furniture manufacturer. We find out more about the range from the amiable multi-hyphenate. 

See also: Design Studio Nendo Creates A ‘Constellation’ Of Blossoms For Christofle

Tell us more about the concept behind the Torii line.
Oki Sato (OS)
The starting point was to create a new sofa collection that is contemporary, but soft and comfortable. The system also had to (harmonise) with the other existing Minotti collections. I wanted it to have a visual lightness so I first focused on the details of the legs, which are the main structural element.

The shape reminded me of the traditional torii gates of Shinto shrines in Japan. The common leg design across the collection creates visual unity, like a wooden colonnade or Senbon Torii—an alley of tunnels made of 1,000 vermillion gates. 

How did kigumi wood construction techniques inspire the detailing on these pieces?
OS
The ends of the horizontal components are designed to look like they are biting into the seat. It’s reminiscent of traditional wood joinery often seen in vernacular Japanese wooden architecture. The goal was to maintain visual lightness while expressing a sense of secureness, with each component firmly locked together in unity.

See also: 5 Eco-Friendly Chairs Made With Upcycled Plastic

Your studio is typically very involved in the Milan Fair. How has it reacted to the event’s cancellation this year?
OS
It is important for us to think positively. Ten years later, when we look back, I would like to think we were glad to have this time for a pause. Surprisingly for me, nothing has changed. I spend my days constantly thinking about design. I’ve never really thought of design as work. It’s just part of my everyday life, like breathing or sleeping. My daily routine is what relaxes me.

Of course, working, shopping or meeting people can be done online, but I feel that people need to (meet) in real spaces that you can feel comfortable in. Some things will never change, such as staying at home with family and spending time with friends. These are essential values of life, and exactly what we are (trying to enhance) together with Minotti.

What kinds of projects do you enjoy the most?
OS
I find a project appealing when it is difficult for me to imagine the final output, or when I cannot perceive the impact of its completion. A project that has a level of uncertainty and makes you feel a bit anxious is a project worth jumping into.

What are some words of wisdom you live by?
OS
I worked with fashion designer Issey Miyake on the Cabbage chair (for a 2008 exhibition commemorating the first anniversary of 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo). He said: “The difference between art and design is that with art, you can do whatever you want but with design, in the end you have to make people happy.”

It’s a very simple (statement) but that really inspired me. That’s why I think design should be friendly. I sometimes have a little humour or ‘spice’ in my designs to make them more accessible.

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