Tatami are a traditional Japanese flooring material made from tightly woven igusa (soft rush straw). To this day, even contemporary homes in Japan that are either carpeted or have wooden floors, will have a washitsu (Japanese room) that consists entirely of tatami mats. Tatami date back all the way to the Nara Period of the 700s and have always been reserved for flooring. But now, a Japanese company is trying to broaden the possibilities of tatami by creating a line of furniture upholstered in tatami.
Major architectural planning and materials company Daiken teamed up with French interior designer Jose Levy to create “Moving Tatamis.” The line of furniture, which includes a bench, mini table as well as storage units, incorporates the company’s proprietary “suki washi tatami,” a form of machine-produced tatami that utilizes washi paper instead of the traditional straw.
Tatami furniture may seem radical in Japan, which is perhaps why the company decided to release it first in Europe at the prestigious Maison & Objet show in Paris. And Jose Levy turned out to be a perfect fit for reimagining the traditional Japanese elements. Anatole, the designer’s grandfather, founded a company in Japan called Judogi and in the 1960s specialized in making martial arts equipment. “An inveterate traveler with an abiding passion for Japan, Anatole took back to France special machines that would enable him to locally produce authentic tatamis, kimonos and bokken.” In 2012, Jose even spent several months in Japan for a residency program, which resulted in an exhibition of sculptures (one made using tatami) and photographs.
Daiken has not yet decided whether or not to produce the pieces at scale and are reviewing feedback and audience reception from the furniture fair, which just ended. Like we indicated, it’s hard to see “Moving Tatamis” work in Japan. But in other places tatami mats could easily come off the floor. After all, the theme of Jose’s show after returning from his residency in Japan was: exploring a “Euro-centric fantasy of otherness.”