The Imari Collection: A Design Journey of Collaboration and Craftsmanship


In 2019, we embarked on our second journey to Japan, a country that has been a guiding source of creative inspiration and holds a very special place in our hearts. However, little did we know that this trip would lead us to collaborate with one of the oldest potteries in Japan.

We’ve learnt over the years that the only way to truly understand a country is to directly engage with local people, especially those who share an enthusiasm for connection. For Japan, we wasted no time reaching out to our close friend and AJOTO representative in Tokyo, Chiaki, with a request to help us try to connect with some of Japan’s best makers and craftspeople.

One of the incredible companies Chiaki connected us with was Kanomen Kiln. A small pottery located in the legendary village of Okawachiyama. The village, located on the edge of Imari, is often referred to as the "Village of Secret Kilns." It is a place deeply rooted in history, where the legacy of porcelain, craftsmanship and innovation has thrived for centuries.

The rich history of ceramics in Okawachiyama began when the shoguns established kilns in the region, producing pottery exclusively for their own use. For a certain period, it was strictly prohibited to trade and sell the ceramics produced here or to even disclose its production techniques. The village is surrounded by mountains on three sides, which made it an ideal choice to maintain control over the production and the artisans who were well-paid but restricted from leaving the valley. Today, while the potters are free to come and go, their dedication to their craft remains strong.

We have been fascinated by the age-old traditions of Imari ware, known for its distinctive cobalt blue and white designs, known also as Nabeshima-sometsuke. The influence of which can be seen replicated the world over. However, we are interested in collaboration and with the support of the Kanemon Kiln set out to create a unique collection that would merge contemporary British design with the traditional Japanese craftsmanship that had captivated us.

On returning to Manchester we began exploring ideas, however, this process was quickly interrupted by the onset of the global pandemic that challenged our approach to collaboration and development. How could we develop and refine a product across time zones with huge restrictions, inflated shipping costs and language barriers?

Rising to challenge we adopted a new working method and looked at ways to embrace and utilise additive manufacture and 3D design process to rapidly iterate from idea through to production. Even to the point of producing mould-ready models that could be digitally sent across the world and then printed locally with exacting accuracy. This process of talking with forms, images and shapes enabled us to bridge the language barriers that had often caused issues or delays and also produce more accurate work.

The result of our collaboration with the artisans in Okawachiyama is two new pieces that form the start of our Imari Collection. Each piece is inspired by the creative and unintended uses of objects:

1. The Pen Pot - The design is directly Influenced by both ‘yunomi’ cups that are ubiquitous throughout Japan for drinking tea and the pen pots that many of us fashion from old mugs, cups and glasses we find in our homes. The result is an elegantly simple desk piece that can be used to store your stationery, be filled with your favourite hot or cold beverage or become a small vase to brighten up your desk.

2. The Crown Rest - Embracing and celebrating the chrysanthemum, a natural form that is used extensively in Japanese designs we crafted a tactile Pen rest that utilises the petal pattern as a functional element, enabling a Pen to be securely rested on its surface in any direction. The crown rest is moulded as a solid form that allows it to also function as a paperweight. Keeping your loose papers safe in the morning breeze.

This collection of beautifully considered objects combines the elegance of traditional Japanese craft with the contemporary functional aesthetics of modernist British design. It pays homage to the Japanese philosophy of finding beauty and purpose in everyday objects and redefining functionality with an artistic touch.

As we reflect on this incredible design journey, we are reminded of the challenges we faced. However, with the care and assistance from Chiaki and the Kanomen kiln, we overcame all these obstacles in our pursuit of bringing this collaborative dream to life.

This is just the beginning of our mission to introduce you to incredible makers and artisans from around the world that we encounter on our journeys. We hope that our Imari Cup and Pen Rest Collection will not only find a place on your desk but also serve as a testament to the enduring power of collaboration and craftsmanship.

It's a tribute to the artisans of Okawachiyama and their dedication to preserving their timeless traditions. We can't wait to share more stories and designs with you as our journey continues…


Explore the new desk item collection

sketching of desk items
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