An Interview with Frederik Alexander Werner on Karimoku Case Study

In this feature, we’ve had the honor of interviewing Frederik Alexander Werner, designer and partner at Norm Architects, a world renowned Danish design and architectural studio. 

As the newest collaboration between Norm Architects and Karimoku Case Study, a Japanese contemporary lifestyle brand based in Aichi, this project is the embodiment of well matched cross border design. 

To celebrate this new collaboration, Karimoku Case Study is displaying their pieces at Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo until March 10, 2020. A triple collaboration featuring Bang & Olufsen as well, this exhibit is definitely one worth visiting.


How did this collaboration with Karimoku Case Study come to be?

We got introduced to the mother brand – Karimoku Furniture Inc, by our collaborator, Keiji Ashizawa. We met Mr. Ashizawa during a workshop for another Japanese design brand, Ariake Collection. Finding that we had mutual interests, sense of aesthetic and philosophy, Keiji introduced us to Hiroshi Kato, the VP of Karimoku during the furniture fair in Stockholm.  After getting to know their passion and uncompromising quality, we quickly began to work on a line of bespoke (custom) furniture pieces for an interior project in Tokyo in collaboration with Mr.Ashizawa. This line of furniture became the starting point for Karimoku Case Study– thus we’ve actually been part of the whole development of the brand and are now serving as the creative directors. We chose to invite the Danish design agency; Kontrapunkt, let by my good friend Philip Linnemann, to develop the identity for the brand and with it, a bespoke typeface that has been built on the details of the first furniture collection. Karimoku is rooted in their standards and quality of production, and being able to create an independent brand with them has been a unique opportunity. 

Frederik during a Karimoku workshop that was held in Kyoto


Who is the intended target market for this collaboration? Is it more for the European audience or Japanese?

With the strong history and position that Karimoku has in Japan, we of course wish to introduce it to the home market, but it has been a clear goal and wish for us to make it a more international brand, which is why we also pre-launched at the Kinfolk Gallery in Copenhagen, during 3daysofdesign. This April we’re also exhibiting at two locations during Milan design week and New York as well in May.

With that said, it’s also important to say that the brand’s aesthetics and purpose are very humble and in many ways classic, a design language we believe is appreciated across many different cultures. 


In the process of working with Japanese designers, was there anything you learned from them or vice versa? How was the working relationship?

It has been and continues to be a very inspiring way of working. Each time we jump into a new case or project we start off with a workshop, which entails traveling around Japan to get a better knowledge of the crafts, design and architectural heritage. We did the same in Denmark when the Karimoku Case Study team and Mr.Ashizawa visited us.  

The working relationship is very much built on friendships I would say.. as we speak I am sitting in Tokyo at the guesthouse of Keiji and I have been here so many times that I feel completely at home. The work is therefore being done at all hours of the day or night. The design process starts from early morning and continues until the late hours, but we don’t really sit down at the desk and try to force any ideas.  Instead we are on the go, seeing exhibitions, visiting factories, showrooms, galleries etc. and I believe that’s because our work is driven by passion more than anything else. 


How is the general response to this collaboration?

We have had an amazing response from all over the world and we are continuing to develop both the brand, collections and everything that goes behind, so that we can live up to expectations. It is important to remember that the brand should serve as a guardian for the natural and timeless. Our goal is not to be driven by fashion, but rather to look to tradition and human well-being in order to meet real needs. 


You’ve collaborated with a number of Japanese brands. Has Norm Architects actively been pursuing work with Japan or did one thing lead to another?

We have always been inspired by the Japanese sense of quality, crafts and philosophies, and likewise it seems that many people in Japan also look to us in Denmark when it comes to lifestyle, design and architecture. Collaborating with kindred spirits makes things flow a little easier. 

Do you think you’ll be doing more work with Japan in the future?

Oh yes.. we already have a few projects in pipeline on both the architectural and the design front. Just mentioning a few while I am here in Tokyo – I will be looking at new furniture prototypes, presenting new concepts for an upcoming Karimoku Case Study “Case” and further develop two architectural projects that we are collaborating with Mr. Ashizawa on – projects you will be able to visit here in Tokyo sometime during the next 2-3 years. So we have a lot of exciting things coming up and I hope that it will continue to be like this. We have somehow become “addicted” to Japan – no wonder.

For more information on Karimoku Case Study check out karimoku-casestudy.com or follow them on @karimokucasestudy.
For more on Frederik’s work, check out normcph.com and @normarchitects on Instagram.

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