Reshaping the Everyday: Oki Sato, of Nendo

Just 10 years after being inspired by a visit to Milan, the designer and his firm are going gangbusters
By Alice Liao
September 18, 2012

After earning an M.A. in architecture from Waseda University in Tokyo in 2002, designer Oki Sato visited the Milan Funiture Fair with his friends. The trip proved to be a turning point. Sato noted, “We were strongly inspired by what we saw in Milan, and that was the moment I decided to be a designer.” Upon their return, Sato cofounded the design firm Nendo in Tokyo, which has since opened offices in Milan and Singapore and built a broad and highly acclaimed portfolio of work for clients as wide-ranging as Boffi, Häagen-Dazs, Lexus, Louis Vuitton and Bisazza Bagno. This year, the firm was named “Designer of the Year” by both Wallpaper* and the Elle Déco International Design Awards.

If someone had asked you when you were a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” you would have answered…
I never gave much thought to the question. I was always interested in video games and manga comic books.

Where do you see the design industry going in 10 years?
It seems the physical forms of everyday things have been disappearing gradually with the development of technology. It’s important we reconstitute them by collecting and reshaping them into something easy to understand.

What is the most intriguing aspect of your job?
I get to discover something new with all of the projects.

What do you hate about it?
Long flights since I do an around-the-world trip almost every month.

What do you like to do in your spare time when not designing?
Relaxing at home with my dog.

Where do you derive your ideas?
Everyday things, everyday life, because the everyday can become something more if it’s given the attention it deserves.

How long is your typical workday?
I go to the office around 9:30 am with my dog. I have lunch at the soba-noodle restaurant close to our office around noon. I have meetings with my staff and clients and then leave the office around 10 pm to go home. My house is a 10-minute walk from the office.

What do your bath collections tell us about modern life?
Our objective for the Bisazza bathroom collection was to create a strong singular impression by assembling the various elements of a bathroom suite as though they were “all in the bath together.” The feeling of connection that comes from a bath with someone you don’t know at a hot spring or local public bath is an important part of Japanese culture. Our bathroom collection for Bisazza expresses this feeling through its design.

The two key parts of the strategy are details that present the different elements as though they have been stored together in a box, and elements that go together well when used in multiples. The taps are located inside the washbasin and bathtub, submerged in water alongside accessories like a soap dispenser or a water glass.

A tray placed inside the basin becomes an island for objects that need to be kept dry. The washbasin stand encloses the washbasin inside a wood frame, through which the water pipe rises up from the floor, turning into the tap.

The mirror glass has been removed in different places to mimic the effect of pools of water, thus emphasizing the impression of the mirror residing in a frame. The planters are designed as though in boxes, so they can be stacked. The small ceramic container can be used to hold a toothbrush, bud vase or other items. Its shape was carefully designed to be easily used in multiples. The wall clock can also be lined up in multiples, creating the visual effect of horizontal continuity.

Tell us about your favorite/ideal customers…
They’re the ones who always challenge me to come up with something new.

Do you have a signature style or personal design philosophy?
Giving people a small “!” moment.

People would be surprised to find out that you…?
Love sweets.

What is your greatest strength as a designer?
I can enjoy design 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What is your most annoying weakness as a designer?
I have no hobbies.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current profession?
I would own a cake shop.

What is your favorite place on earth?
At home.

If you could have a five-minute conversation with anyone dead or living, who would it be?
My dog KINACO.

What’s the one thing that keeps you up at night?
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