Today, we introduced a selection of housewares to the Sight Unseen Shop, including Shin Okuda’s whimsical plywood and steel Shaped Bookends. We thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce you to the Los Angeles designer’s inspirations and work, which we originally showcased in Paper View, Sight Unseen’s first-ever printed edition. Though the book has a limited run, copies are still for sale in our online shop. Get yours here before it’s too late, and read on to find out more about one of our favorite up and coming designers.
Shin Okuda had managed to elude his fate over and over again before finally setting up a furniture design studio in Los Angeles five years ago. The narrowest miss: befriending a gaggle of industrial-design majors at Chiba University, only to then study literature and education because he couldn’t picture pursuing an artistic life. The most hilarious: moving upon graduation from small-town Japan to Scottsdale, Arizona, where a friend’s travel-agent cousin needed help hosting Japanese businessmen on golf vacations. Once the novelty of that experiment wore thin, Okuda went on to hold a string of odd jobs in L.A. until he began assisting in the studio of a now-famous sculptor, where for five years he continued to subvert his creative instincts. “I was the only guy there who didn’t have a degree in art or design, and I think I was too intimidated by their skills to follow my own interests,” he recalls. And yet when he looked at what they were making, eventually he realized he might have something different to offer: “I didn’t think furniture needed to have such complicated curves,” he says. “I wanted to make the opposite of that curvy design-y stuff.”
Since Okuda went solo in 2007 under the moniker WAKA WAKA, he’s been creating angular plywood pieces that are as indebted to the Bauhaus as they are to Japanese craft — namely the straightforward construction of traditional shrine furniture, something he documents each time he returns home. “When you see my pieces, you can see how they’re built; the structure is obvious,” he explains. “I don’t use crazy hardware, and my joints look simple, even if they’re difficult to make. Just a straight line and a round dowel.” A year and a half into his practice, he found a kindred spirit and partner in the fashion designer Kristin Dickson, who had just opened the craft-based concept shop IKO IKO near his studio. He designs geometric tables and zigzag coat racks for the store, and she fills its shelves each time the couple visits his family in Japan. Though it sounds a lot like serendipity, Okuda still demurs: “It’s not like I wanted to be a furniture maker. Those were just the skills I had,” he says. “It was a natural way for me.”