Shin Okuda On small acts of sustainability.

Shin Okuda On small acts of sustainability.

  • Words George Upton
  • Photography Justin Chung

Okuda hand crafts all of his furniture pieces at his studio north of Los Angeles. (Pictured: Samsung Jet Cordless Stick Vacuum)

Every morning, before he leaves for the studio, Shin Okuda vacuums his home. “Cleaning is a form of meditation,” says the Los Angeles-based furniture designer. “It’s an important part of the creative process.”

Okuda produces functional and utilitarian furniture at Waka Waka, the studio he founded in 2009. What began life as a few pieces he produced for events at Iko Iko—the concept store run by his wife, the fashion designer Kristin Dickson-Okuda—has since flourished into a continued collection of refined, playful pieces. His designs are inspired by quirky Japanese post-modern designers from the ’70s and ’80s, such as Shiro Kuramata, and are full of subtle personality.

Everything at Waka Waka is made by hand in Okuda’s studio in the north of the city. Like his home, the studio is clean and ordered, and offers a window into his considered approach to design. “When I design furniture, I want to maximize the material,” he says. “Every time I throw something away, it hurts.”

When designing a new shelving system or chair, Okuda first sketches out ideas on paper before moving to a 3D design program on his computer. It’s an essential part of the process that allows him to visualize the design without having to develop a sequence of prototypes. This way, he can cut the composite parts from a sheet of birch plywood in the most efficient way possible. “I keep all the scraps for future projects, or I’ll develop a project specifically to make use of what’s left over,” he says.

Waka Waka is a testament to the adage that good design is sustainable. Conscious of the process by which the materials he uses are produced (Okuda even wishes he could grow his own trees so that he can be responsible for the entire process), he builds his furniture to last. Okuda is careful to ensure his designs don’t fall out of fashion—the pieces are reserved enough to be at home in many different contexts, and to feel timeless. “I want my furniture to have character, but I don’t want it to be too loud,” he says. “It’s about finding that balance, between functionality and something more designed.”

Okuda’s interest in sustainable processes and long-lasting design recently found greater focus when he became a father. “Before the birth of my son, I only really thought of the future as being the rest of my life,” says Okuda. “Now, my sense of the future has shifted to include his future, and that’s made a big difference.” As well as encouraging him to pursue a better work-life balance—to leave the studio to spend more time at home with his family (“my favorite time of the day”)—the arrival of his son has come with a renewed awareness of the climate crisis and the role designers can play in mitigating it.

“Sometimes I think there are too many things in the world already, so I feel like I shouldn’t be making anything,” Okuda says, “but then I’m a furniture designer.” Although people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of repairing and repurposing furniture, many still need something new. The answer, according to Okuda, is to make products that are durable and designed to stand the test of time. “Longevity is now such an important factor in what I make,” he says. “I want to be aware of what I’m putting out into the world.”

This story was created in partnership with Samsung as part of Slow Systems—a new series offering simple ideas for transforming everyday moments into more meaningful experiences.

Okuda has designed Waka Waka’s studio in much the same way as he designs his furniture—to be simple, functional and utilitarian.

ISSUE 52

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