Japanese craftspeople pioneered the process of Kumiko around 600 or 700 AD. Using this technique, they build a beautiful latticework from hundreds or thousands of small pieces, fitting them into a grid to create a pattern. The finished work is traditionally used to create shoji, or screens, but today it’s also used for lamps, furniture and more.
Despite the many parts involved, there are no screws, nails or glue used in the process — everything is fit together by hand. Custom designs in the traditional style are assembled by Tanihata, and the influence of the style is apparent in the work of contemporary designers like Oki Sato.
Across the world in the United States, Ariele Alasko is also bringing together the past and future of intricate woodwork. She uses reclaimed lath, or wood strips, to craft her pieces. Originally based in Brooklyn, New York, Alasko gathered scraps from old brownstones in her neighborhood. After collecting and cleaning the pieces, she cuts them and assembles them into complex geometric designs. Her single edition tables, wall panels and headboards display a remarkable array of color — but there are no stains or dyes involved.
After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture, Alasko struggled to find her niche as an artist, and was frustrated by the purely ornamental nature of her work. Her accidental discovery of furniture-making has resulted in a career that unifies her love of design and her desire to bring people together.
Sebastian ErraZuriz works in New York, but he was born in Chile and raised in London. His groundbreaking designs fall under a wide variety of genres: public art installations, women’s shoes and motorcycles, to name a few. But it’s his experimental wooden furniture that sets him apart as a designer. It earned him the honor of having his work auctioned at Sotheby’s as part of an Important Twentieth Century Design series.
His intricate cabinets incorporate an unprecedented array of moving parts that simultaneously attract and dissuade use. Seemingly fixed parts spring into motion at the right touch, revealing hidden drawers and storage spaces.
By contrast, Naoto Fukasawa’s Hiroshima armchair looks as though it was carved from a single piece of wood. Inspired by Scandinavian design, Fukasawa’s industrialization of Japanese craftwork has resulted in pieces that are simple yet extraordinarily complex.
The shape is carefully crafted for comfort and to highlight the beauty of the natural materials. “The gentle curve from the back along the arm is very appealing,” says Fukasawa. “The tapering of the sides of the arms, the seat of the chair and the table accentuate the beauty of the light shining on their surfaces.”
Intricate woodwork is a meditative form of sculpture. Whether the finished piece is an assembly of many small parts, or a streamlined, organic shape, the best examples takes time to create, and time to truly appreciate.
Written by Lindsay Vermeulen
Headline photo of Ariele Alasko’s Brooklyn studio by Nicole Franzen