Nacasa & Partners

Takeshi Nakasa with leading figures #5
Ichiro Shiomi / spinoff Representative Director(left)

Lunch talking in Seoul
spinoff - The design and the vision of Ichiro Shiomi

Stay Sharp and Keep Your Edge!

I guess it might have been because it nearly 30 degrees out, a hot day for early June, or perhaps it was because of having eaten all of that Korean beef the night before in the sleepless city of Seoul, but for whatever reason, this column got a bit out of hand.
Takeshi Kasaka, a photographer who has spent many years using his camera lens to peer into the world of interior design, sat down with Ichiro Shiomi, the designer behind the interior design of business spaces such as shops and restaurants that have become the talk of the town like XEX and The Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo. The theme of their discussion was ‘Japanese design spreading across Asia.’ The two different points of view of these men, who are both involved in projects in different Asia countries from, provided a chance to give an overview of Japanese design.
But this time, maybe the liveliness of Seoul rubbed off on him, but Mr. Nakasa was more animated and talkative that he has been for any of the columns so far in this series, so Mr. Shiomi had to fend off his sharp, witty remarks.

Maybe partially due to the animated conversation, this column managed to capture and insightful (or perhaps even surreal) discussion as it veered away from the original topic.(July 2012)

01. Going for BAM!

02. Surrounded by a Cast of Characters
03. Design and Kansai Natives
04. Paying Close Attention to the Important Parts, ‘Shiomi Style’
05. First, Kick Open the Door

Ichiro Shiomi
spinoff Representative Director

Born in 1962 in Hyogo Prefecture, he earned his degree in design from Osaka Art University and went on to the interior design office NOB where he learned under the tutelage of Kouji Yoshio. He established his own office, IS Architects & Associates, in 1992, and then founded spinoff in 1999. He has designed numerous business spaces such as XEX Tokyo, Soup Stock Tokyo, The Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo, and others. For the past few years his overseas work in Asia has been expanding, especially in areas including Bangkok, Seoul, and other locations.

01. Going for BAM!
photoNakasa: Have you had a lot of overseas work lately?

Shiomi: Yes, a lot of overseas work, with 60 or 70 percent of it centered in Asia. It comes from things like a client seeing one of the shops I designed in Japan tracking me down to contact me, or sometimes I just suddenly get an e-mail; jobs just drop down out of the sky and come to me. There is another studio with a name similar to mine, so sometimes it makes me wonder, “Are you sure you aren’t mistaking me for another studio?” It’s like, “Come on, we are such a small studio, why are we being chosen for such a huge commission?”

Nakasa: This restaurant, The Kitchen, Salvatore Cuomo, is also something you were involved with, right?

Shiomi: Yes, it was through, Y’s table corporation, which XEX has been connected to for a long time, so I was in the right place at the right time. My basic stance on design is that I don’t concern myself something is for Japan or for overseas, I just do my job the same as always. This restaurant also originally came from Japan, so if you just look at the shop itself, it feels like you are in Japan, right? But, in Seoul it’s apparently becoming a place where Korean celebrities and actors gather. About overseas work, I had the feeling like ‘Now’s the time’ to take things abroad. For our generation, when we go abroad, we lay the groundwork and build up a brand abroad as Japanese designers. If, in the future, this could lead to opportunities for the next generation to go further, I would be very happy 

photoNakasa: Hey, this interview isn’t for some big university seminar or something, so you don’t need to come up with such a smart and sophisticated answer, you know! But seriously, I have always thought that with the kind of track record you have had so far with your work you could have gone ahead and taken more of a leading role. I want you do to the kind of amazing work that makes the world stop and say, ‘Whoa!’ What I mean is, for example, I want you to just go ‘BAM!’ So, if Yukio Hashimoto’s design is ‘enveloping,’ then Ichiro Shiomi’s is BAM! 

Shiomi: Oh really? So, what is BAM? One of the last column was a nice piece on Fumio Takashima of BALS, but this time it’s just about BAM.

Nakasa: I guess it’s from your reserved personality, you are too polite. That it your biggest theme, your tallest wall to climb. 

Shiomi: I am just going about my business as usual…

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02. Surrounded by a Cast of Characters
photoNakasa: So, for example, how about this: do you ever step back and let your supporting cast take over a job?

Shiomi: You mean my staff? I wonder who that would be...

Nakasa: Hey, didn’t you have a PR person?

Shiomi: You mean, Mai Shishikura? She is a designer.

Nakasa: Yeah, her. She is such a character and I think it’s great how she is so fearlessly curious. Maybe you could say that she is changing the stoic image that you have had at spinoff up until now. Originally, Nacása & Partners was supposed to be a high-class company, too. I am the owner and I am have a really gentle and naïve personality. But, for some reason, no one has that image of us at all! I think that’s because of all of the other people at Nacása & Partners other than me.

Shiomi: Nakamichi-san, he’s the reason for that.

Nakasa: Ahhh, it’s Nakamichi! Yeah, he’s got that kind style where he always delivers a real performance. He’s from Kansai, the western part of Japan around Osaka.

Shiomi: Yeah, that’s what happens with Kansai people, they really have a spirit of pleasing the customer.

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03. Design and Kansai Natives
photoNakasa: From a design perspective, since you come from Hyogo, which is in Kansai on the west side of Osaka, do you think that you also have a bit of that ‘Kansai native’ feeling.

Shiomi: Hmm, well, more than about design part, I am just always trying to make people laugh, which is a Kansai trait. And, including myself, we don’t let stuff get us down, we use everything as fuel.

Nakasa: Also, maybe you also don’t go for high class. Meaning that instead of looking at something as just ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ you are competing in a different dimension.

Shiomi: But in terms of class, in places like Shanghai and Hong Kong, I have had the feeling that they certainly ask for bright and flashy things. I was thinking that ‘China doesn’t really fit me,’ but a while ago I went to Beijing and my impression changed. I felt like I can work well there. So, lately I have been thinking that I want to do some work in Beijing. 

Nakasa: So that’s where you should use you Kansai style and just run with it!

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04. Paying Close Attention to the Important Parts, ‘Shiomi Style’

Shiomi: I am also thinking that I myself have to change as well. As years go by and I build my career, it’s hard to keep continuing with the same style.

Nakasa: If I were to explain, overall, today’s design is being all smoothed out and has become refined in a way. But I don’t have any more need for ‘some kind of classy design.’ Maybe it’s a good idea to just throw out everything that is part of the way things are now—because things need to be rougher around the edges. I think that I, in my own design, need to ride this intensity and really push my clients. Back before the bubble of 1980’s Japan, we were able to do things like that.

Shiomi: I know what you mean. In that context, I have some knowledge to impart through my design. When you present ideas to a client, at some point they say “Do it like this,” but suppose I think that following their instructions would be a bad fit for the project as a whole. When I was young I used to just go head-on against their opinion and push them hard, but now I just ignore their instructions until they get impatient with me. Then they ask, “What about that think we talked about, how’s it coming?” And I play dumb and answer, “Oh yeah, well, don’t you actually think that another way is better?” When I do that, I can get them to listen to me surprisingly easily. If following the client’s wishes will have a negative effect on the final outcome, then that is like the tail wagging the dog. So I pay close attention to that, and reject things that deserve to be rejected.

05. First, Kick Open the Door
photoNakasa: But what should you do so you can become more BAM?

Shiomi: Oh no, that again. I could have Mai Shikishikura do it for me, but first it should come from my attitude. How about, next time I pay a visit to your office, I’ll just kick the door open? Yeah, I’ll start from there: just ding-dong and then BAM! And I can do the same thing when I get back to my own office. Just like “Hey, I’m back…BAM!” Maybe that’s how we should do our next discussion

Nakasa: Sounds great! Sometimes you just need to just smash through things, both for yourself and in your design. You’ve got to keep your edge!

Text: Hiroki Yanagisawa (Freelance Editor)
Edit: Nobuko Ohara (Nacása & Partners Inc.)

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