Tokuhiko Kise, or Tok for short, is a gifted furniture maker and woodworker. He also owns and operates one of our favorite contemporary furniture shops in Japan, TRUCK furniture. We went to visit him at his shop while we were in Japan, but unfortunately our schedules didn’t line up. Luckily for us, Tok so graciously offered to meet us here in Los Angeles as he is renovating his new loft in Downtown LA. Tok is a no frills kind of guy that likes what he likes and doesn’t really look to add too much reason behind it. You can definitely see that in his work, as his furniture effortlessly blends unique qualities of both the new and the old. Without further ado, here's our interview with Tok!
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
A: I am a furniture maker. I don’t call myself a designer, I design but I haven’t studied design and I just design what I like. I started making furniture when I was 19 years old after I just finished high school and took a one year technical course on furniture making. My first job as a furniture maker was working for a small chair making company. When I was 23 I started my own furniture company. I bought cheap machines and rented a space and started from scratch, but I didn’t have any money to buy timber so I would gather any materials that I could find for free from the junk yards.
Q: Is there any specific moment that got you started in furniture making?
A: In high school I noticed that all of the students just wanted to go to university even though they have no vision or idea of what they want to do. I didn’t want to do that, so I thought about what I really wanted to do after high school, and I found the technical course for furniture making from a magazine that I really liked. The school was in Nagano prefecture and I liked riding motorcycles, and since it was in the Japan Alps I decided that it was beautiful and I wanted to keep doing that. Now I’m 50 years old and I’m still doing it!
TRUCK Furniture Showroom
Q: When you’re designing something new, where do you begin? Do you start with a certain function in mind, or do you go by shape/feeling/emotion/etc?
A: I always start by thinking about what I want to make and how it functions. It’s really very simple. I don’t care or follow the current trends or what’s to come, I really just make what I want to. But of course, I get inspired by many things such as movies or something on the street, maybe a magazine. It’s more so how I’m feeling and that’s why the furniture is very mixed in style.
Q: Your employees told me that sometimes you’ll be in the shop for the whole day and other days you’ll just pop in for a brief moment to check on things. When you’re not in the shop, what does your day look like?
A: I don’t know if you know or not, but my house is right next door to TRUCK. So since our home is so close I spend a lot of time at the house if I’m not at the store. I’ll either be working on something in the studio or we like to set up a firepit, sit around, and drink scotch or whiskey.
DT Sofa by TRUCK Furniture
Q: In America, we don’t often find furniture stores with cafes connected to them. What was the inspiration behind starting Bird?
A: When we started TRUCK there were no shops or cafes around that area. People would always ask me, why that area? But after we started the shop and many magazines began to feature us, people from all over the world would start to come to visit the area and other shops started to open. After many years, there was one time where I remember a couple sitting on a bus stop bench outside of our shop, and they were looking through our catalogue very seriously. Buying furniture is not easy or quick, so I noticed that they were thinking very hard with nowhere else to sit but that bench, and that scene stuck in my mind. That was when I decided to dedicate a place where people could think about what they wanted to buy. I didn’t originally plan to open a cafe, I thought it would be fine to just have a stand where we could give out free coffee but there was this doughnut machine that I first saw on a trip to Australia in 2003 and after seeing it, I was longing to have one for myself. So after 6 years I finally found one and that’s when we decided to start Bird so that our customers could have coffee and doughnuts while they decide on their furniture.
Q: Although TRUCK is in the outskirts of Osaka, how are you able to maintain a following from all over the world?
A: Nowadays it’s much easier with Instagram and our website, but back in the day it was much more about word of mouth. I think what helped us were interviews with magazines from London or from the US, that really helped to expand our following.
Bird Coffee // Cafe connected to TRUCK Furniture
Q: You’ve lived and worked in Osaka for many years. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?
A: Hmm that’s a difficult question. I guess when I first visited New York I really fell in love with the city. It’s so different from anywhere else that I’ve visited and there are many big trees. For me, trees are extremely important for where I work and live. Another city that I really love is Sydney, there are also a lot of big trees. I guess I can live anywhere with many trees. Where we live in Osaka City there are actually not that many trees so we had to bring in trees and plant them around the compound that we built.
Q: Lastly, do you have any advice for someone trying to get into furniture making or starting their own business?
A: I’ve never given advice on something like this but I guess something I find very important is to stay curious. If you don’t stay curious, nothing will happen.
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in visiting TRUCK Furniture in person, we’ve provided their address below, or you can check out their website here for additional information!
Address: 6-8-48 Shinmori, Asahiku, Osaka, 535-0022, Japan