FEATURES : DESIGN

It’s an Analogue Life

By Tom Ran

Published October 8, 2013

Analogue Life owners Ian Orgias and Mitsue Iwakoshi

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Analogue Life owners Ian Orgias and Mitsue Iwakoshi

An unlikely place for a shop but fitting for Analogue Life. It sits on a street corner in a quiet neighborhood in Nagoya inside a house from the Showa Era.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

An unlikely place for a shop but fitting for Analogue Life. It sits on a street corner in a quiet neighborhood in Nagoya inside a house from the Showa Era.

A gallery occupies the first floor while Analogue Life is on the second floor.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

A gallery occupies the first floor while Analogue Life is on the second floor.

Sliding wooden doors that divided the rooms were removed to make more space for the floor.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Sliding wooden doors that divided the rooms were removed to make more space for the floor.

Objects are carefully arranged to give each item generous space for display.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Objects are carefully arranged to give each item generous space for display.

Wooden bowls from Shoji Morinaga, George Peterson and other artisans.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Wooden bowls from Shoji Morinaga, George Peterson and other artisans.

Left: Iron ash boxes produced by Sゝゝ; Right: Urushi boxes with walnut lids from Fuji Seisakusho

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Left: Iron ash boxes produced by Sゝゝ; Right: Urushi boxes with walnut lids from Fuji Seisakusho

A handcrafted bento box from Masaru Kawai

Photo: Barry Whittaker

A handcrafted bento box from Masaru Kawai

Left: Spoons and forks by Yuichi Takemata; Right: Hari Sashi handcrafted brass and copper pin cushions

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Left: Spoons and forks by Yuichi Takemata; Right: Hari Sashi handcrafted brass and copper pin cushions

Left: Handmade grass brooms; Right: Funagata bags made from waxed canvas, designed by Kazumi Takigawa

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Left: Handmade grass brooms; Right: Funagata bags made from waxed canvas, designed by Kazumi Takigawa

An oversized brass mobile by metal artist Shiori Miyajima hangs above the shop.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

An oversized brass mobile by metal artist Shiori Miyajima hangs above the shop.

A touch of modernity in the subtle signage on the glass partition.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

A touch of modernity in the subtle signage on the glass partition.

Details of the house were left untouched. A look at the grounds from inside the property.

Photo: Barry Whittaker

Details of the house were left untouched. A look at the grounds from inside the property.

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Since 2009, Analogue Life has been the destination for contemporary Japanese crafts. But despite its global customer base and strong media coverage, including Wallpaper* Magazine’s reputable Handmade issue and showcase, little has been chronicled about the couple behind the small but impressive and influential shop in Nagoya. Founders Ian Orgias and Mitsue Iwakoshi’s attentive and thoughtful discoveries have exposed many Japanese artisans to the western world. Artisans that may never have been recognized outside of Japan if it weren’t for their shop.

Ian Orgias, originally a Toronto native, settled in Japan prior to launching Analogue Life with Mitsue Iwakoshi. Their skill sets as a photographer, web developer, and sales in apparel prepared them for the transition. They initially operated the business as a bilingual ecommerce shop before opening a brick and mortar store, or in this case, a wooden house from the Showa Era.

The house sits on the corner of a block, away from pedestrian traffic. As unconventional a retail space as it may seem, it’s a fitting environment for a shop that showcases exquisitely crafted goods for the home. Minimal modifications were made in order to open up the floor space. The result was a congruous arrangement with old and new.

With so much interest surrounding the origins of Analogue Life, the shop itself, and the craft community in Japan we reached out to Ian Orgias for an interview. His response was both enlightening and reassuring that the contemporary craft scene was alive and thriving in Japan.

The Scout:Can you give us a background on how you and Mitsue came to open Analogue Life?
Ian Orgias:Mitsue and I had been discussing the idea of opening a shop for several years before we eventually opened Analogue Life. Our original plan was to relocate to Toronto (my hometown) and open a shop there importing and selling modern Japanese designs. I had come to Japan in love with the work of contemporary designers like Naoto Fukasawa and masters like Sori Yanagi and Isamu Noguchi and when we originally conceived the idea for the shop there was much less emphasis on handmade work and work by individual artists.

For various reasons which included wanting our young daughter to attend school in Japan long enough to achieve complete proficiency in Japanese and the fact that we were both very comfortable with our lives here we decided to remain in Nagoya which is Mitsue’s hometown.

By the time we had decided it was time to open the shop in 2009 we had undergone an evolution in our thinking about what kind of objects we felt passionate about offering for sale. Although we still loved what contemporary Japanese product designers were doing, the objects that we had been collecting and using in our personal lives, that excited us, were the kind of hand crafted wares and everyday tools that we now offer at Analogue Life. From a business standpoint we also recognized that there must be a market even if only a small one for a very selectively curated collection of contemporary Japanese craft. And that market was largely unfulfilled.

The Scout:Did Analogue Life begin as an online store before the shop in Nagoya opened?
Ian Orgias:Yes, we opened the online store first and the shop in Nagoya two years later. We originally launched with the Japanese site and shipped only within Japan. The English site offering international shipping followed several months later.

At the time I had been building websites, doing product photography for other websites and Mitsue in addition to a background in apparel sales, had also been doing some website design and maintenance. So we had all the skills (web design, html, photography etc.) necessary to open an online shop relatively easily by ourselves. This was before all various tools and services that make starting an online shop very easy now.

There were some difficulties at the start because there were many Japanese artists and craftsmen that were hesitant at that time about offering their work in a shop that existed only online. This attitude has change quite a lot over the past four or five years, but was not unusual when we started. Many artists and even brands who at first declined to let us sell the work on the website, eventually came around when we demonstrated that we would make an effort to present their work thoughtfully and were committed to having some dialogue with our customers over every transaction. To this day we are still using a simple system that requires that we mail and communicate personally with every customer after an order comes in.

The Scout:The shop is inside a traditional Japanese house on a corner of a quaint residential neighborhood. What was it about the house that made you decide to open a shop there? How much was changed to turn it into a retail environment?
Ian Orgias:The house is a lovely Showa Era structure built about 85 years ago. The first floor houses a gallery (Tsukihiso) run by our acquaintances. We had often attended exhibitions there and always admired the beautiful architectural detailing and the lovely garden. I had actually photographed the house several years before we even thought about having a shop there, for a photography book on Windows.

Prior to us moving in, the upper floor space was used by a graphic designer as a home/studio. When we heard she was moving out we immediately made the decision to take the space knowing that with some small modifications would reflect perfectly the basic aesthetic of our shop which is a balance of skilled quiet, craftsmanship with contemporary styling.

We kept the changes to the space to a minimum. There was originally three tatami rooms separated by Fusuma (sliding doors). We removed the Fusuma to open up the space and put flooring over 2 of the tatami rooms. We have put the Fusuma doors in storage and built the flooring up over the tatami so that we can return the space to its original condition in the future if necessary. The flooring is an unstained white ash with a beeswax coating. A very light colored wood with a clean, modern feel that contrasts nicely with the original dark wood flooring in the hallways and the reddish brown wood beams throughout the space.

The original walls of the house were Tsuchi-Kabe (mud plastered wall) , a traditional material in old houses. It is impossible to paint over it so we covered the walls with Shikui, a traditional japanese plaster finish.

We wanted the space to retain as much of its original atmosphere as possible so we left the remaining tatami room with its slightly soiled and faded Tsuchi-kabe walls intact. We also kept the original tatami flooring but removed the tatami’s brocaded fabric border for a simpler, cleaner look and installed a clear glass partition.

Our display cases came from a shop in Tokyo that finds old Taisho and Showa period furnishings and strips off the original finishes leaving them with a cleaner, contemporary look.

The Scout: It’s a good thing that despite the name, Analogue Life has embraced the digital medium. It has exposed many Japanese artisans to the rest of the world. This is made possible due to the fact that the site is also in English. Did you realize how broad the reach would be when you launched the site? Was this your intention from the beginning?
Ian Orgias: We had always been amazed that there was so much incredible work being produced in Japan that was not available overseas, so we had a sense from the beginning that there would be strong interest in the products we selected. But we have been surprised at the level of passion there is for Japanese crafts in so many different places.

We made a conscious effort not to select items for the English site based on what we imagined overseas customers would want or to try to adapt products (eg sizing) to suit the needs of different markets, but just to present work that we liked and let customers decide. The varying type of objects that customers choose to purchase is something that has also surprised us.

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