This month, John (USA) reports on a furniture shop in Fukuoka that promises to make your life here more comfortable. It’s also a great place to find some made-in-Japan, useful souvenirs. Here’s his report.
I need a table for my new house, and mind you not just any table: I need something that compliments my tastes and will last me a lifetime. Gone are the days when I would buy cheap, self-assembling, non-descript furniture. Fortunately for me and my wife, living with cheap furniture is far behind. What I need is not what big box stores can give me. I need a guarantee that when I invest my money, it will pay dividends and not be thrown away from breakage way too early. And I need furniture that will have my friends and family come over and say “Wow, where did you get this from?” My answer to these are at U-houseing, the independent furniture store in Minami-ku, southwest of the Fukuoka City center.
Walking into U-houseing, the first thing you notice are the aromatic smells. The perfect blend of fragrance from wood that immediately puts you at ease; soothing music welcomes you through the front doors as well. The store is lit with natural sunlight beaming through the giant storefront windows, making your reception peaceful, a stark contrast from the bustling, noisy city outside. As I started to look around, I was taken aback by all the products offered here. There is a beautiful arrangement of chairs lining the top floor, and these are not ordinary chairs: these chairs are unique. The chairs are designed with such elegance and such care, it’s hard to pick just one. One chair in particular stood out for many reasons. The DC09 is a German IF design award-winning chair from Milan. You can see that all of the wood finger joints (where two pieces of wood are joined together) are extremely smooth and strong as steel. The finger joint designs are reminiscent of the Hako Shachi wood splice design from the Otemon main gate of Osaka Castle.
I rise up off of the DC09 to investigate more of the store’s offerings. I walk through the store and notice the dedicated personal touch that is apparent from the placement of furniture and interior design throughout the store. There are dedicated areas showcasing the different offerings available, such as the children’s corner which is set up with the little desks and chairs that children need for optimized studying. A big long table shows intricately designed utensils and knick-knacks that are one-of-a-kind accessories perfect for home or office; the hand molded brass tape holder is very elegant. The items dedicated for the kitchen are so clever, they will breathe new life into my kitchen; for instance, the Nabeshiki houses (foldable hot beverage coasters) that collapse to become perfectly balanced coasters, then assemble back into tiny houses.
I keep walking and I come upon the large wood tables. I brush my fingers along the smooth texture of wood beneath my fingertips, a soft sound like the ocean scraping across the sand on a beach. The aforementioned smell of wood hits me again, like the moment you enter a hot spring built out of hinoki cypress: a subtle blend of pine, cinnamon, cherry, and rosemary. This is when I come across the owner of the store, Mr. Nobutaka Kawamura. Mr. Kawamura is a friendly man who exudes kindness from the very moment I meet him. He asks me how I am doing with a smile that is welcoming. I tell him I am looking to remodel my new house and I am looking for several things to start my new life with. He then gives me a personal tour of his store, teaching me so much more than I could have gotten from any Google word search.
I ask him what that incredible smell in the air is, and he tells me that I am smelling the many different kinds of wood the furnitures are made of. There is wood from the hinoki cypress in the dining table in front of me, and the round table next to it is made from the Monkey Pot tree, a wood native to Hawaii and Fiji. The desks in the corner are made from American black walnut, black cherry, white ash, and red oak trees. There are products made from the wood recycled from Japanese shrines that bring with them an energy that is positively enchanting. The idea here is to show off the fragrance of hinoki cypress, the same used in Japanese hot springs. Mr. Kawamura says the aging process is the secret of wood. Like fine wine or cognac, the colors and scents become even more beautiful with age.
He tells me that I can customize my tables so I can pick and choose my need for balance within my house; every piece is unique. And that if they ever need repair, he will personally come and sand or stain the furniture. Even if someone hasn’t bought their cherished furniture from him, they may bring them in for repairs to this store, which has been in the same location for over 18 years.
As we are talking, I see the next piece I will buy: a sofa with cushions that are soft to the touch and a minimalist frame. This model is called the Paper Knife sofa, a Denmark designed piece from the famous Kai Kristiansen. It has a warm glow to it that reminds me of candlelight dancing with the warm air surrounding it, perfect for an afternoon nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We go upstairs towards the bedroom and kitchen section and pass by some beautiful Iranian handmade tribal rugs in all sizes for dining rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, or hanging on the wall as an art piece.
I ask Mr. Kawamura for gift ideas and he shows me the flower bases, mori no furiko dokei (super cute small grandfather wall clocks), and a children’s height chart. In the kitchen section, I find my next piece to buy, a Zaisu floor chair perfect for get-togethers with friends. Behind the floor chair I see rocking kitchen stools that my mother-in-law is going to love using while cooking some traditional washoku for the family. I have begun slowly building up my collection of furniture and I am so relieved to be able to come to one place for all my exquisite furniture needs. Every piece of furniture is designed with a purpose: there are no mistakes, no accidental brilliance. This is the future of furniture and I am lucky enough to know this now.
Mr. Kawamura notices my eagerness in all of his furniture and tells me that he travels around Japan meeting designers, craftsmen, and other curators. He finds the very best pieces available in Japan and brings him to this store. I joke that this is like the Barneys New York of furniture stores. I tell him I will never shop at the big box stores for furniture again, and he agrees, saying that with this quality of furniture, I will cherish it and feel good about owning it, and I will fall back in love with it again many years later. We seem to have developed a bond over the mutual admiration and love of wooden furniture. I congratulate him on an amazing family-owned business. We say our goodbyes and part ways, and I travel home knowing that my furniture is one of a kind, and that everybody who visits me will be impressed.
• 5-6 Tamagawamachi, Minami-ku, Fukuoka
• 5 min. walk from Takamiya Sta. (free parking in front of the shop)
• Open: 11:00~19:00
• Closed: Wed., 12/27 ~ 1/4
• Tel.: 092-554-8700
☆Special New Year Opening Sale☆
Start the new year out with comfortable furnishings at discounted prices during U-houseing’s New Year sale.
• 1/5 (Fri.) ~ 1/14 (Sun.)
By Masatsugu John Sugie for Fukuoka Now, Dec. 2017
Read another report on U-houseing (May, 2016) here: