From interior to furniture to the latest product design to sweets, super unit Tonerico are creatively unstoppable. And this trio’s sophisticated style has been in the works since 2002. How do they keep coming up with one minimalist design idea after another? PingMag took a visit to their studio in Shibuya, to talk with Hiroshi Yoneya, Ken Kimizuka, and Yumi Masuko to find out!
Written by Chiemi
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
How did Tonerico come together?
Ken: Hiroshi Yoneya and I met when he was working under me at the office of interior designer Shigeru Uchida. Yumi Masuko was working for Setsuko Yamada, who was the director of the Ginza Matsuya department store. Our bosses used to work together often. We took our name, Tonerico, from the Japanese word for ‘white ash,’ a wood we all like to use.
As a design unit, besides doing mainly interior design, you also started making furniture and lots of other products. Why?
Ken: When making new spaces, it is better to create chairs and tables that fit that space, rather then put in furniture that has already been made. We often just naturally go in that direction. For us, creating spaces and creating products is really the same.
When we hear “product creation” we tend to think of people creating products for the purpose of putting them on the market. What’s your opinion on that since you have shown your work three times at the Salone Satellite…
Hiroshi: Basically, that is not important for us. The first year we were at Salone Satellite in 2003, we had a product that could have easily been put on the market. At that time, we just thought we would like to create something using porcelain, made from a fresh perspective.
And what about the second year you were there?
Hiroshi: After the first year with basic items, we wanted to make something that would violate concepts of form the second year. I think design schools everywhere produce chairs that all have a certain form. We wanted to create something that would smash that notion, something that couldn’t be mass produced. But even though it wasn’t for the market, we thought we would be happy if it caught the eye of a maker.
Afterwards, your work “Memento” won first prize at Salone in 2005, didn’t it?
Hiroshi: Designing spaces is at the centre of our work, and so to demonstrate that concept, we made a space installation. It also resembled an object, leaving the audience with a lot of opinions about it.
What was your experience with Salone Satellite?
Hiroshi: We have only submitted works three times, but over those three years our work has gained attention, and that has given us confidence. The third year, makers such as Cassina and Arflex started to show interest. People were able to understand our message, and we were able to move on to the next step.
What did you show at the Interior Lifestyle fair last year?
Yumi: We set up a booth with porcelain maker Ceramic Japan and displayed designs in three places, the floor, the walls, and the table. We created ceramic floor lights, flower vases for the walls, and plates displayed on the tables. It was all planned to be displayed together.
Ken: The floor lights for the exhibition, called “Tilt”, are made with ceramics that allow light to come to you. When you fire ceramics, they tend to lean a bit in one direction or another and we wanted to use that flaw as part of the design. That’s why the the lamps seem to be leaning and moving slightly in different directions. Interesting, isn’t it?
Yumi: For the wall-mounted flower vases, we based the design on a kangaroo’s pouch. The message is that flowers should be carefully cared for, the way a baby is protected in the mother’s pouch.
Yumi: When we designed the plates, we had already created another piece called “cell.” We were interested in mysteries of cells as the smallest units of living organisms, so we created plates based on cell division.
Those are all so wonderful! And rather than being commissioned, most of your work that is picked up for the market are those you created freely. What are you currently working on?
Yumi: A Japanese sweets shop, Rokube, saw the interior design we did for another sweets shop before and has now asked us to work on their shop too. They make a kind of Japanese sweet called monaka, so the design of the shop is based on that sweet (whose form we also designed.)
You certainly have a wide range. From design to interior to Japanese sweets! What’s your plan for your upcoming exhibitions
Hiroshi: To continue making things we want. So far, we have met, discovered, and gained so many things through that.
Tonerico from left to right: Yumi Masuko, Hiroshi Yoneya, and Ken Kimizuka.
Yumi: It has been wonderful to see how so many people reacted to our designs. It gives us motivation to continue to say “So, what shall we make this year?” It would be nice if we can keep a good balance between our regular and creative work.
Thanks to the three lovely Tonerico creators! Keep up with your creative flow!
And don’t forget about their current exhibitions in Tokyo:
Ginza Maison Hermès Window display by Tonerico
At Ginza Maison Hermès, 5-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku.
Running till Tuesday, November 18th.
Ftoi Exhibition 2
At MinamiAoyama EXTO showroom, 1F SAT.1 Bldg 2-20-4 Minami- Aoyama, Minato-ku.
Running from Saturday, October 25th until Monday, November 3rd.