The Tatami Chair "Eri" - A Japanese Bow.

Danish furniture design enjoys great respect in Japan - the aspects of minimalism and details as well as the great level of preparation correspond very well with Japanese mentality and the Japanese' demand for quality. However, even though similarities between Japanese and Danish design do exist, it takes more than just international understanding to design a piece of furniture for decoration in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony houses.

In 1991 the Japanese manufacturer Kohseki invited a number of Danish designers to come up with suggestions for a tatami chair - or rather a chair which could be used at the tea ceremonies. Kohseki manufactures and furnishes Japanese tea houses and imports Danish furniture. Hans Sandgren Jakobsen (HSJ) was among the invited and his suggestion together with a suggestion from the architect Verner Panton, was chosen and a prototype was made. At first, HSJ formed the seat of the chair as a circular frame of pre-compressed ash tree with top and bottom made of plywood. On the seat a 10 centimetre high pillow was placed. But since the tatami chairs normally are very low - and sometimes even replaced by mats - the Japanese manufacturer was afraid that people would "fall down" from the high pillow. Therefore, the seat was changed and the bottom frame was replaced by a 16 mm MDF plate, and the very high pillow with a 3 centimetre high pillow. These changes also made the chair less expensive.

The back of the chair is made of one piece of pre-compressed ash tree - a special steam bending technique which has been developed in Denmark. The technique makes it possible to bend a solid piece of wood in almost any direction. The inspiration for the back was found in the sash on Japanese women┤s kimonos. And this also explains the name of the chair Eri which means kimono in Japanese. On the prototype the pillow was covered with a cloth made of 100 per cent wool designed by textile designer Inger Mosholt Nielsen. The inspiration was the structure and the tight modulation of the tatami mats. Unfortunately, the manufacturer chose to use a standard cloth when producing the final product.

HSJ┤s tatami chair is more Japanese than Danish - and it reveals a secure handling of the project. Despite the small size of the chair, it still appears lively with an almost dramatic meeting between the geometry of the seat and the sculptural back. It is obvious that HSJ has worked long and hard to obtain a total visual expression between the two conflicting main components. It is also fascinating that the chair has been able to handle the drastic change from the high to the low version without losing its main idea. HSJ has managed to maintain his theme with a remarkable stubbornness and by doing so he has given the small chair a high degree of independence - something very Danish.

Mike R°mer

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