CONSCIOUS PROPORTION A conversation with Shin Okuda and Bianca Smith

Waka Waka is a Los Angeles based studio focusing on wood furniture and functional objects designed and hand crafted by Shin Okuda.

His work ranges from seating concepts, utilitarian objects and space design, all of which demonstrate a simplicity in form, subtle detailing and a unique interpretation of proportion.

Wood is often the chosen material, specifically Baltic birch plywood, for its generic utilitarian application and its superior quality for furniture making.

“I waka waka waka –I go many places," which is the spirit of the studio. Look forward, look up, look out. Shin Okuda was born in Fukuoka, Japan and now lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.


We’ll start with a heavy-hitter. If you had to describe your philosophy on design, what would you say?


Minimum design. Conscious proportion. Plywood as a dynamic but determinate material.

Can you describe the moment when you knew that furniture design—crafting beautifully functional objects—was for you?

When people started buying it. I wanted to make some furniture pieces for my wife’s event at the Iko Iko space, and that’s kind of how it spiritually started. It was a show about books, so I made tables like cheese slices. That was a moment when I recognized stores offered a very physical,

tactile experience to information and object exposure. Iko Iko was my platform to start thinking about functional pieces—and more broadly, an opportunity for me to commit to the ideas I had.

Tell us more about your perspective on functionality and intent.

Since I make functional furniture, it has to serve and own its design purpose in that way. Limitations and rules are big guides in my idea process. Like a piano—it has 88 keys, which ultimately has a huge influence on how you can create, be it within limit or building and expanding on variations.

Pick a piece from your metal collection. What inspired it?

The dining set. I have always loved this one vintage French chair from an auction I went to. It had a lifted seat and a very angular structure,

which definitely made me think about all of the different possibilities for a similar structure.

Pick a piece from your wood collection. What inspired it?

The seating series of the cylinder chairs and straight back chairs were a union of round forms and straight lines in two dimensions. The impact of profile and the challenge of how to make it still be a comfortable chair? A lot of drawings and prototypes that inspired the series.

What are some of your favorite woods and metals you were able to work with for these two collections?

I primarily use Baltic birch plywood because it's like a blank piece of

paper. Its the plainest wood—its very strong and of high quality—so it allows for almost anything I think up. In the past few years, I've incorporated laminate and lacquer for color options.
The metalwork is nice because it's a different way of thinking due to the structural problem-solving. The actual
design of the pieces can become very light—plus finishes are interesting to explore, too.

Detail your process, from the inception of the idea for a piece through to the end.

There's a moment before I fully wake up when I think of things—and when that moment comes, I draw my ideas down with a pencil. I fine-tune things and see if through the computer rendering I have a workable design. I often return to zero and look at past work, and then through my library. There is also a bit of back and forth with clients sometimes before we arrive at the final design.
With my own collection, we all sit with it for a bit before fabricating the sample.

How do you hope one feels while interacting with one of your pieces?

Comfortable. I think my pieces are flexible—they have a home in a variety

of spaces. Furniture is activated by the person using it, so it's nice to see how a customer ends up finding where it fits in their space.

Can you tell us more about the “spirit of the studio,” and why “I waka waka waka” rings true to the work you’re making?

We want to do our best with every commission and with every piece that comes out of our shop, be it a chair from the collection or a piece of custom work. We’re all about exploration and growth and observation through that walk.

Are there any overarching themes to your work?

I think when you make your own company, you have to put forth a very honest voice to your work—and you end up testing whether an audience will be responsive to that voice. But there is a balance; there are choices you have to make at times to give you more

opportunities. It can’t always be art for art’s sake.

You’ve been at this for 10 years. What have been some of the most challenging moments of your career, and what have been some of the most exciting?

Losing part of my thumb. Making work that inspires more work. Having a team and building that team. Continuing to create pieces in a style that can exist in a rapidly changing world.

Who are three people who have influenced your work throughout the years?

My wife—she was the first person to encourage me to try furniture-making and made me hold myself.

Kazuo Shinohara—his gestures of line and space, the odd proportions, the exposure of humble materials, his architecture—it all unites the earth with human space.

Peter Shire—he is constantly creating work and making fine art as well as art furniture. He’s a positive spirit, interested in sharing that process and his whole timeline as an artist.

What keeps you inspired?

Everyday life. Connecting problem solving to design work. My family and friend-family, too. My books. Going back to Japan.

What’s next for WAKA WAKA? What’s next for you, personally?

A bigger woodshop, more experiments with materials—and personally, a home for which I can make our furniture.