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5 minutes with Oki Sato in Milan

Oki Sato of Nendo needs no introduction. He has achieved cult status among designers and design-lovers alike, with a prolific output of products that range from cheesecake to robots, furniture items and more.

5 minutes with Oki Sato in Milan

How does Oki Sato achieve the seemingly unachievable? Each product his studio releases offers up some element of the unique, exciting, fun and aspirational. It’s hard not to like everything you see. Very hard!

In Milan this year, he has launched the ‘N01’ (to mark the first of perhaps many collaborations) with Fritz Hansen. Again, this product – a chair – reveals Sato’s sheer design stamina with its ambitious mission. It’s the first piece to be produced in all timber since Arne Jacobsen’s ‘Grand Prix’ (1957), and its construction is a sophisticated feat in joinery.

Sato is entirely charming in his modesty as he explains how it all came together.

“[In my studio] I do all the presentations and come up with all the ideas. There are 30 designers in our studio, and 10 management staff, so every day I spend three hours having meetings with my designers and I check about 50-60 projects.”

Rather than being the master of multi-tasking, Sato is very much the master of focus.

“Every day I spend three hours having meetings with my designers and I check about 50-60 projects.” – Oki Sato

“I’m not trying to see everything at once. I can focus on only one project at a time. If I work on four or five at the same time, it would probably cause a lot of stress. This way allows me to forget about the 390-something other projects.” Which equates to zero stress, he says.

The relationship with Fritz Hansen might seem late in coming but actually bloomed two years ago. “It started when I’d staged the ‘50 Nendo chairs’ [in Milan in 2016]. I was exhausted [that day and sitting] having a cup of coffee, then a man walked up and sat beside me, we had a nice cup of coffee and he said, ‘You’ve designed 50 chairs, will you design another one for us?’ So it was the 51st chair.”

Having presented his concept to Fritz Hansen, it was revealed just how important and symbolic the N01 would be. “The last all-timber chair was Arne Jacobsen’s!” exclaims Sato. “Lucky I was told after the presentation because before that I would have been putting a lot of pressure on myself!”

“The last all-timber chair was Arne Jacobsen’s!” – Oki Sato

As the project slowly came together through much backing and forthing, the N01 emerged. “It was one of the toughest projects for me in my 15-year career, but it was one of the most exciting,” he says.

Stay tuned for more on Nendo, there are hints he may be out in Australia for a very special presentation, late in 2018. Follow @indesignlive and #milanindesign on Instagram for regular Milan Furniture Fair updates. 

Fritz Hansen is available through Cult in Australia.

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