Kenya Hara, Japanese “emptiness” aesthetics guru, on decluttering (2)

What about a life without material overload at home? Hara says that decluttering – removing unnecessary items to make your life simpler – is about setting the stage on which you can truly enjoy what you decided to keep, whether it’s a piece of furniture or tools. “It’s not just pieces of art that are beautiful – indeed, each and every daily product or tool has its own beauty if they were made with great attention to every detail.”

It’s important to draw a line between simple products and the ones streamlined for the sake of economic efficiency.
Designers have been attempting to create beauty in mass-produced products by adhering to basics; to make people’s lives more joyous (aesthetic quality) and comfortable (functionality). 
Butterfly chair (1956) by Japanese industrial designer Sori Yanagi
Tea pot (1923) by Marianne Brandt who headed the Metal Workshop of Bauhaus in 1927.

No-frills, functional, and beautiful, capable of dissolving into anyone’s living environment. Hara is the Art Director for Japanese company MUJI, which has been the go-to brand for people who want to live a rich life with “less.” This Pocket Coil Spring Mattress can be a bed or sofa, with or without legs.

By now, you may have realized that Hara is not really advocating for quantitative reduction when it comes to decluttering.  When the whole point of decluttering is to make your life joyful, comfortable and beautiful, the items you keep need to be products of aesthetic and functional quality. But that’s not the end of the story. In order to be able to enjoy them, you need to be engaged. You need to be concentrated and activate your abilities and senses. Hara further writes: “Imagine you kept a crystal glass. A simple, clear, empty, just a regular glass. But once you put an ice cube (probably single large one) and pour good quality whiskey in it, an aromatic, beautiful amber emerges in front of you. If you have a clean table and a neat coaster, your glass of whiskey would look even more pleasing.” It is as if you collaborate with your belongings or surroundings to let beautiful and pleasing things emerge: instead of buying an auto whiskey-making machine (a typical “good deal” marketing approach), you arrange the glass, the ice and whiskey in the way you like, and place that arrangement in a setting that pleases you.

But Hara laments that we have forgotten that kind of bliss. Take traditional craftsmanship. There are so many brands that have been delivering beautiful and functional products for centuries: furniture, timepieces, leather products, chinaware…the list goes on. But unfortunately, traditional industries are struggling everywhere in the world because they simply cannot compete in the market led by our “go get good deals” instincts. “It’s not because those products lost their quality or charm. There still are so many beautiful products today, whether they are pottery or tools. They are struggling because modern people simply lost the mental (and physical) space to engage with them…The problem is not on the production side: it’s on the user side. People no longer pay enough attention to each item nor give them the sufficient time, physical and mental space that are needed to truly appreciate them. We’ve lost the environment that makes them shine.”

Hara is also Chief Creative Director for the Japan House in Hollywood, Los Angeles where you can purchase a variety of products that boats traditional Japanese craftsmanship. .

He concludes: “It’s not how luxurious your belongings are or how many of them you have that make your life truly rich. It’s the depth of engagement you make with each item you own.” Truly good items can “mature” if you use and take care of them on a regular basis. And you need to be surrounded by those products to achieve a truly, rich living environment. It is for this reason that house is an important product.

So Hara has been working actively to imagine the next generation house and living environment through “HOUSE VISION” which he directs, and MUJI HOUSE. MUJI HOUSE recently released the Yo no Ie (Sun House) in Japan, which was supervised by Hara. It was the first time a MUJI HOUSE product was supervised by a designer instead of an architect. There is no doubt that this house will be the place to engage with your “hand-picked” products only, and enjoy a life that is joyous, comfortable and beautiful.

Kenya Hara supervised MUJI HOUSE’s new model Yō no Ie (Sun House)” released in September, 2019. This compact and simple house promotes his philosophy for a rich life by removing irrelevant objects. More photos here.