The Japandi trend combines Japanese and Nordic design language in a new way

The recently popular Japandi phenomenon combines Scandinavian practicality with Japanese design language. Uncompromising respect for old manufacturing techniques brings a new perspective to the interior decoration trend. We discovered how the Finnish Nikari and the Japanese Ariake both continue traditions in their own ways in modern furniture design, fully in the spirit of the Japandi trend.

The Nikari furniture is crafted at the company's own studio-workshop in Fiskars. The RTM6 chair is a design by Rudi Mertz.

”THE JAPANDI TREND is about respecting, cherishing and preserving the old – about carefully considered acquisitions to accompany the old. This is the principle we stand behind as well,” says Johanna Vuorio, CEO of the Finnish furniture manufacturer Nikari.

The internationally recently popular trend that combines Japanese and Scandinavian interior design styles emphasizes respect for craftsmanship and the origins of objects and furniture. Traditional craftsmanship techniques are used to improve the quality of products and the sustainability of the premises. The fact that manufacturing has required time and skill is allowed to show.

Johanna Vuorio, CEO of NIkari
Johanna Vuorio is the CEO of Nikari.

”Natural materials and a serene design language seem to have been well received around the world. Hectic everyday life, unstable circumstances and concern for the future of the environment undoubtedly have an impact on Japandi being seen as the right kind of approach,” says Vuorio.

The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi encourages one to seek balance from the imperfection and roughness of life. Japandi is a continuation of this search for holistic harmony and goodness.

Nikari has been operating since 1967, and its history involves several links to Japan. The company’s solid wood products and know-how first caught the interest of Japanese enthusiasts in the field in the late 1990’s, when founder Kari Virtanen was invited to run a workshop for local carpenters in northern Japan for the first time.

The brand’s selection includes several pieces of wooden furniture by Japanese designers. “I believe that naturality and respect for the material are what the Nordic countries and Japan have in common. Refining craftsmanship techniques and development in the carpenter’s profession are also subjects we have a lot to talk about with our Japanese colleagues,” Vuorio explains.

The Japandi style combines the simple, clean lines of Scandinavian and Japanese design.
Nikari XL December chairs and April tables
The cornerstone of Japandi is timeless and durable wooden furniture. The December XL chairs were designed by Jasper Morrison, whereas the April tables are the work of Alfredo Häberli.
Nikari Separat space divider
Designed by Cecilie Manz, the Separat space divider comprises thin pine panels joined by leather hinges that make the screen adjustable.

“The aspiration for beautiful, timeless forms is present in the modern wood design of both cultures one way or another”, Johanna Vuorio explains. 

Nikari Arte Culture Sauna stools
Aamu Song and Johan Olin designed the Arte Culture Sauna stool for the Culture Sauna in Helsinki, which opened its doors in 2013.

Nikari has participated in the interior design of many Japanese venues, such as the Nobu restaurant in Kanagawa. Furniture by Nikari can also be found at the award-winning restaurant Inua in Tokyo and the Takenaka Museum in Kobe. Nikari staff even had the honor of meeting the Crown Prince of Japan and his wife at the Fiskars studio workshop when the couple visited Finland in the summer of 2019.

”We have great respect for Japanese techniques and sense of quality, but Nikari is specialized in maintaining old Finnish and Nordic techniques. We maintain very high standards and show also on the international level that Finnish craftsmanship will not pale in comparison to others,” says Johanna Vuorio.

Ariake chairs
The seat of the slender Ariake chair is made of leather webbing that will gain a beautiful patina over time.

DEVOTION TO TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUES is also characteristic of the Japanese furniture brand Ariake. Their selection consists of products by international designers, and the company’s creative director is the Singaporean designer Gabriel Tan. The product brand was born in 2016 when Japanese manufacturers Hirata Chair and Legnatec began their partnership. Tan was tasked with designing products for the new brand but discovered a need for a bigger project.

Designer Gabriel Tan
Designer Gabriel Tan has contributed to the product selection of Ariake. He works as the Japanese brand's creative director.

Ariake took its first steps when Tan invited designers to Japan to design furniture for the brand. At the same time, they also learned about Japanese culture and traditions. With international collaboration, Ariake’s collection grew to over 30 products in less than three years.

“The first designers I invited to design for Ariake were mainly from Japan and the Nordic countries. I felt that there is a sense of mutual respect and a shared appreciation for craftsmanship and simplicity between the two design cultures”, Tan explains.

The first products were designed in workshops during which visits were made to cultural and architectural sites and prototypes were made together with factory staff. This created close interaction between the craftsmen and the designers.

“I wanted the designers to come in with an empty sketch book because there is a perception of Japan and Japanese woodwork in our minds that is sometimes very different from reality”, Tan says.

Ariake's first collection was created by Nordic, Japanese, Canadian and Brazilian designers in a series of workshops held in Japan.
Ariake Holm chair
The solid oak Holm chair was named after its designer Staffan Holm.
Ariake Dovetail stool and Column chest of drawers
The Dovetail stool features joints of the same name. The Column chest of drawers was designed by Gabriel Tan.
Ariake Rikyu sideboard
Gabriel Tan drew inspiration for the Rikyu sideboard from elements of traditional Japanese architecture such as sliding doors and homes built on poles.

Nordic designers did indeed bring a new perspective to Japanese techniques. For example, the black Ariake furniture, such as the Beam side table, has been dyed with sumi ink that is used in calligraphy. The idea originally came from designer Staffan Holm, who had seen a carpenter in Sweden dye furniture using the same ink. It felt like a natural solution for Ariake.

Ariake’s woodworking techniques involve references to methods shared by the Nordic countries and Japan, such as the bare dovetail joint that has been used in the Column chest of drawers designed by Tan. The Ariake chair has a classical Nordic silhouette, but attention is drawn to the details of the joints.

“When someone purchases a piece of Japanese furniture, they like to see some of the essence of Japanese tradition in the design. They don’t necessarily want a very strong reference that makes the piece too exotic, but nevertheless they would like the Japanese woodwork to be present.”

Ariake means daybreak in Japanese. The name has symbolic value, and Tan sees the brand as having its own role as a preserver of woodworking traditions: “Making wooden furniture is a bit of a sunset industry in Japan as most factories are shrinking in size due to an ageing population and decreased demand for domestically produced furniture. One of our main goals is to reverse this sunset phenomenon by helping them reach international markets through well-considered design.”

Get inspired by Japandi

Perch stool
Column chest of drawers
Akari 3A table lamp
Paper Porcelain vase
Aalto tea trolley 900
Georg stool
Formakami JH4 pendant
VK kettle

What is Japandi?

• Japandi is an interior design style that combines Scandinavian clean lines with Japanese design language. The trend is a crystallization of the search for balance and tranquility through a harmonious space. Furniture and objects carefully made using traditional techniques will withstand time and soothe the mind.

• You can bring Japandi style to your home with timeless wooden furniture where wood has been naturally processed and hand-made Japanese ceramics and light rice paper lamps. Favor neutral colors and the natural hues of different materials.

• Besides Nikari and Ariake, wooden furniture suitable for the Japandi style is offered by manufacturers such as Skagerak and Artek. The KO series of tableware by Iwatemo and the Paper Porcelain dishes by Hay are made in Japan. The Formakami lamps by &Tradition will add the finishing touch to your sensuous and bright Japandi-style home.

See also:

All products from Nikari >
All products from Ariake >

Text: Joonas Saari Images: Nikari and Ariake

Previous story
Next story

Sign up to Finnish Design Shop’s newsletter and enter a monthly gift card prize draw!

Sign up

For the love of design

Design Stories is Finnish Design Shop's own online magazine, that takes you to beautiful Nordic homes, introduces new products and beloved icons – and much more!

Go to the Design Stories front page

Shop Nordic design

Design Stories is provided by Finnish Design Shop, the world’s largest online store specialized in Nordic design.

Discover our selection

Buy & sell authentic vintage is a curated online marketplace for pre-owned design maintained by Finnish Design Shop.

Find treasures at Franckly