Ishinomaki Home Base: A Hybrid Space In Coastal City Of Ishinomaki Pursues Simplicity
“It usually doesn’t snow like this. I have never seen this much snow here in Ishinomaki,” says Akihiro Wakabayashi, director of Ishinomaki Laboratory as he drove down the Ishinomaki Fish Port. The fish port runs 875 meters long and was recently certified as the world’s longest fish market.
The coastal town of Ishinomaki, located about a three hour Shinkansen ride east of Tokyo, is not always on the news. In 2011, it was the most devastated city by the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, leaving the city in utter wreckage with more than 3,000 losing their lives and many more losing their homes.
This disaster was also the catalyst for furniture brand Ishinomaki Laboratory as its founder architect Keiji Ashizawa helped organize workshops to help residents rebuild what was lost. It’s been more than a decade now since the disaster and the city is returning to a vibrancy with optimism in the cold, crisp air.
In 2020, Ishinomaki Laboratory unveiled a hybrid space called Ishinomaki Home Base – an experiential showroom where guests can stay the night and enjoy the furniture. “We had a dream to make a guest room in Ishinomaki. Ishinomaki is an amazing city, but there aren’t many great places to stay at. Many people would visit the Ishinomaki Laboratory factory but we couldn’t help them navigate their stay when they visit our workshop. We designed it so that visitors can now have a place to stay,” says Ashizawa who designed the structure.
Wakabayashi thinks that the home base can bring about pride among the residents. “Actually, not so many people from Ishinomaki know the extent of Ishinomaki Laboratory’s reach. Having a furniture showroom in Ishinomaki is a good opportunity for them to remember they have a local furniture brand with a design and brand story they can be proud of.”
Since the brand’s emergence in 2011, Ishinomaki Laboratory has expanded globally with its Made In Local initiative. Partners in countries such as the United Kingdom, The Philippines, South Korea, Germany and the United States are all partakers of this initiative, manufacturing Ishinomaki Laboratory designs in their respective countries. It’s a generous business model and one that involves a lot of trust. In this way, local communities can be invigorated and consumers can lessen their carbon footprint by eliminating importation from Japan. Many of the residents of Ishinomaki don’t realize the global appeal of this homegrown brand.
Ishinomaki Home Base sets to be a standing reminder of a community’s successful efforts to work and recover together. It is a restrained two-story structure that doesn’t vie for excessive attention among its neighbors. A closer look will reveal well-informed details that are sensitive to the vernacular while withstanding the tests of time and trends. It has an asymmetrical gabled roof with one side of the roof extending longer to form a canopy over the engawa – a traditional Japanese porch that wraps around the home. This side of the deck that faces east has four large panels of glass sliding doors so that the main showroom can fully open up to the outdoors.
There’s a certain drama with the whole structure being clad in black shingles by KMEW. “We really liked this material and we saw that it fits well for Ishinomaki Home Base’s surface,” Ashizawa adds. “At the same time, I didn’t want to make a fancy building. I wanted it to look and feel like a warehouse from the outside.”
Much thought has been placed in the materials that were employed. The shingles for instance are lightweight – giving it more stability in cases of another earthquake. Its design also muffles the sound of rain, maintaining the quiet acoustics of the interiors. During the summer months, the cladding also helps keep the interiors cool by blocking out the harsh sun and keeping the coolness of the building from escaping.
For the staircase, instead of using a traditional banister, Ashizawa turned to Ishinomaki Laboratory’s workshop leader Takahiro Chiba for inspiration. “Ishinomaki Laboratory is branded by the idea of DIY. We started out making benches using only readymade wood. Ishinomaki Home Base should also be built using this philosophy of simplicity. For example we used rope for the hand rail because Chiba-san loves to camp. So I suggested maybe Chiba-san can make use of this rope for the stairs. It also ended up as a more cost efficient alternative,” explains Ashizawa. The result is clean and modern lines that helps bolster the brand’s ethos throughout the space.
The first floor has a more open floor plan with Ishinomaki Laboratory’s pieces placed in sections. Though this is also a showroom, it feels more than that. “If this was just a showroom, it would be nothing. We don’t just want to show the furniture. Of course it’s important to show the furniture, but it’s more important to create a space for the people who can use the furniture. We created this space hoping that people can enjoy the pieces,” Ashizawa emphasizes.
The double height ceiling exposes the wood beams and three operable skylights. Guests can order coffee or craft beer from the cafe managed by I-Hop Cafe, a local farm that grows hops and vegetables. They can sit on the Basic Chair designed by Sebastian Marbacher, a stackable chair with a backrest, or cuddle near the HETA stove on the 105° Lounge Chair designed by Norm Architects. Chopped wood is stored behind the fireplace and fed to the fire throughout the day to keep the chilly temperature at bay during harsh winters as today.
The Tripodal Shelf designed by Hong Kong based Studio Adjective sections off one sitting area from the next. An alcove in the end is a listening room of sorts with Wakabayashi’s extensive vinyl collection. A RIN DESK designed by Daniel Schofield leans against the wall as a small work table. Ishinomaki Laboratory has collaborated with many important designers for their furniture and it’s truly a wonderful feeling to see them all in one dedicated space.
Only staying guests have access to the second floor which houses the four rooms designed by longtime Ishinomaki collaborators. Ashizawa brought the four designers to Ishinomaki and they discussed how each room can be unique. “Ishinomaki Laboratory was really helped by many designers. They designed our furniture from the very beginning. So something like the Ishinomaki Home Base should be the same way and collaborate with designers. And since each room is different, hopefully guests can come back and try staying at a different room each time,” Ashizawa says.
The first room, named Takibi (the Japanese word for bonfire), was designed by TORAFU ARCHITECTS. Fittingly, they designed the pendant light in this room and also the lighting fixtures around the engawa that resembles bonfires especially when lit. The iconic AA Stools are rendered both in their classic form as bedside tables and also in a more modern profile by Karimoku in gray and black. This room has private access to the balcony where you can see the ocean from afar and gaze at stars at night.
The next room is Hato or pigeon in Japanese and was designed by Naoki Terada of Terada Design. This room contains the brightest color of the whole facility. The wall facing the bed was painted by Terada himself in a gradient apple green with a clock in the shape of a bird house. Terada also designed the genius umbrella stand at the front of Ishinomaki Home Base called Drop.
DRILL DESIGN, a studio by Yusuke Hayashi and Yoko Yasunishi have been awarded with many national and international awards such as Red Dot Design award, German Design Award and The Good Design Award in Japan designed the third room named Eda (or branch). A large wooden hanger that resembles a tree leans on one wall. It is a larger iteration of their Ishinomaki Laboratory Tombo Hanger.
The final room is the largest and can fit up to three guests and was designed by Taiji Fujimori. Named Noki (meaning eaves), the room features a sconce with an eave-like overhang. Containing many of the furniture that he designed for Ishinomaki Laboratory such as the ENDAI, a bench that is used here as a coffee table.
“The four designers are all important designers for Ishinomaki Laboratory. It’s only been a little more than 10 years but it already has such a rich history. We wanted to work together with them again and not with just furniture design but this time with space. It was a way to celebrate the brand’s 10 years,” Ashizawa says.
A fully equipped kitchen utilizes the same materials used in the brand’s furniture – timber, steel, and plywood laminated with linoleum. Ashizawa hid the frames of the windows to further blur the lines between indoor and outdoor. A couple of Ishinomaki Stacking Benches that Ashizawa specially designed for the Blue Bottle Coffee branch in Kitaya Park in Shibuya. Since the benches could be stacked neatly, the staff at Blue Bottle Coffee can easily store them at the end of the day.
“Thanks to Ashizawa-san and the design of the Ishinomaki Laboratory products, there is a good vibration and powerful atmosphere in this space,” Wakabayashi observes. “Because of the pandemic many of the locals here felt down. But once they saw the Ishinomaki Home Base, they somehow were encouraged to use the space and plan cheerful events.”
Every Sunday morning at Ishinomaki Home Base, the community holds an event they call “Sunday Breakfast Club”. The community gathers and enjoys a breakfast menu from local restaurants with music from a DJ. It’s an inclusive way to support the local businesses and strengthen all parts of the community. “Both young and elder people use the showroom space as an event space. People somehow feel encouraged to plan something at this space, ” Wakabayashi says. He goes on to recount of a group of elderly who held a workshop recently on calligraphy at the Ishinomaki Home Base. The paintings displayed on the walls are by children who tried to interpret what they imagined after smelling a sweet aroma from a bottle.
“Ishinomaki Home Base is created to also be a creative hub in this rural town. I’m hoping that people who stay here or visit will be inspired,” Ashizawa adds.
The strength of this structure lies in the fact that Ashizawa and Wakabayashi acknowledge the power of community and collaboration. Given the circumstance of how Ishinomaki Laboratory started, it was always about community and helping one another. Ishinomaki Home Base clearly aspires for the same.
Photography by Jar Concengco