Top-quality, stylish wooden furnishings and gifts for Fukuoka locals and visitors!
Ikea has a lot to answer for. And we’re not just talking about the hours lost fiddling about with an Allen key. So ubiquitous have the Swedish mega-maker’s pale-blond designs become that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that wood comes in more than just a few standard shapes and sizes.
If there’s anywhere to be reminded otherwise, it’s at U-houseing, an independent furniture store southwest of Fukuoka’s city center that specializes in making natural, hand-crafted wood part of modern homes.
Step into their airy showroom and you’ll find woods of every shade and texture, woods you can’t even name (Hawaiian monkeypod, anyone?). Luckily manager Nobutaka Kawamura can — in Japanese and English — as well as a lot more besides.
Nobutaka, whose family has been in the furniture business for around a century and who runs U-houseing with his father, is an unabashed wood nerd. The two of them have a sort of philosophy when it comes to their favorite material: use the whole tree.
You can see it borne out in their solid-wood tabletops, shaped to show off knots, ridges and other so-called “imperfections” that other manufacturers would cut around. It’s also in the quirkily shaped smaller items on sale, no two the same — many of them are offcuts from larger pieces that instead of going to waste have been turned into ornaments in their own right. The results can be unexpected: like the clocks that, when you look a little closer, turn out to have a tiny twig for their second hand, complete with bark and leaves.
Nobutaka will tell you where each wood comes from, what its character is, even how it will age. He points out a desk made of young hinoki cypress, so fresh you can still smell its lemony fragrance: in 10 years’ time, he explains, it’ll go from straw-yellow to a buttery caramel.
That matters because whatever you buy from U-houseing, most likely you’ll still have it a decade from now and well beyond. This is furniture made for a lifetime’s use. Sometimes, Nobutaka says, he sees students come to browse and leave without buying anything, only to return a few years later when they’re setting up a “real” home and can finally afford to invest.
His pieces may be future heirlooms, but they definitely don’t look like antiques. While the Kawamuras source their stock from independent designers all over Japan, what unites it all is the combination of traditional materials and techniques with a clean, contemporary aesthetic.
Think pure lines and matte finishes — the kind you’ll find on display in trendy eateries such as Shirogane Sabo and Mon An Ethnic, just two of the Fukuoka restaurants that have come here for their fittings.
Even if you’re not a design buff yourself, Nobutaka and his staff can help you find what suits your home. They won’t tell you which wood to go for: that’s far too personal a choice. Instead, Nobutaka advises clients to touch as much as they like and go by heart, not head.
Say you fall in love with one of their tabletops: U-houseing will help you choose which legs you want it mounted on and find the chairs to go with it. Rather than proposing an identical match, the store prefers to suggest complementary woods and designs that suit each other while meeting different needs — which is why you might find yourself coming home with a bench, a stool and a couple of chairs instead of the traditional dining room set.
If you want a more radical refit, U-houseing has an on-staff interior coordinator who can help plan entire rooms. Head upstairs to the second floor to see mock-ups of what your kitchen, living room or bedroom might look like kitted out with sleek fitted storage units by Gallery Shuno, an Osaka company; U-houseing is the only place in Kyushu where you’ll find their designs.
They can be ingeniously adapted to the quirks of Japanese apartments.
Short on space? Set cupboards away from the wall to create a nook for bookshelves behind them.
Scared to hang anything on those paper-thin walls? Try specially mounted wall cabinets that spread the weight.
There’s also a children’s playroom where customers are welcome to park their kids while they browse.
U-houseing isn’t just for those looking to furnish a whole house. It also stocks a range of home accessories, stationery and gifts, from vases to mix’n’match coasters, magnets to key fobs. Its sets of chopstick rests, for instance, each one made from a different wood and cut to slot together into a cylinder, would make a unique made-in-Japan souvenir.
Visitors to Fukuoka will find plenty small enough to fit into a suitcase, while the store can arrange shipping for anything too big to carry home. Customers with tourist status can also shop tax free.
Wood? You should.
Free parking in front of the shop.
Text: Jessica Phelan, for Fukuoka Now.