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Process and Materials

Metalwork and upholstery are the main processes in Ayako's practice, which take place in the studio located in Pontiac, MI, USA, a suburb of Detroit historically known as the heart of the American maker movement. Most of the materials are sourced from local suppliers.

Ayako Aratani

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Ayako Aratani (born and raised in Chiba, Japan) is an artist and designer who creates artful furniture pieces that push the boundaries of what furniture can be. She believes that functional objects not only serve a purpose but also evoke metaphor and storytelling. She aims to create pieces that bring a sense of art into everyday life.

 

Ayako's interest is how she can leave organic irregularities that are found in handmade beauty and warmth. Instead of relying on mass-production processes, she prefers hands-on methods as a potential answer to more sustainable production practices.

Born and raised in Japan, Ayako has a deep appreciation for the natural world and the importance of balance, harmony, and imperfection. Living and working in Detroit, historically known as the heart of the American maker movement, has also greatly influenced her work. It has nurtured her knowledge and craftsmanship and exposed her to a variety of perspectives and ideas within a diverse and resilient community.

Metalwork

Metalwork, especially brass brazing on steel and stainless steel, is a key part of Ayako's work. Unlike welding, brazing doesn’t melt the base metals, allowing for precise joins that maintain the original materials' integrity. This technique is usually used for robust joints in plumbing, bicycle frames, and HVAC systems.

 

Brazing, a jointing technique using a filler metal with a lower melting point than the base metals, involves heating the metals enough to melt the brass. In Ayako's pieces, like the Ghost Garden series, the brazed joints are smooth and concave, enhancing the intricate metalwork. She files the joint areas for a cleaner look.​

Ayako was inspired by the gold joints with dark metal surfaces and developed a blackening process to complement the brass joints, involving degreasing, rinsing, chemical patinating, oil treatment, and top coats. She has recently explored using synthetic metal to seal the ferrous surface, adding texture and durability against oxidation.

Upholstery

Influenced by her grandmother and mother, Ayako enjoys working on her industrial sewing machine. Her experiencein upholstery sewing began when she helped a school friend at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. She continued providing fabrication support after graduating and, later, expanded her work to include local upholstery shops around metro Detroit.

Soft furniture has been one of Ayako's interests, relating to her design hope of offering warm comfort in domestic settings through artful furniture. Due to fabric, foam, and seamlines, upholstered furniture brings an organic and handcrafted feeling. She sees upholstered seating as a soft sculpture offering inviting and comfortable functionality for resting.

Creating upholstered furniture requires an engineering mindset to build the internal structure. Ayako also enjoys designing these layered structures under fabric, which include woodwork, metalwork, foam, and others.

Process Gallery

Biography

​Ayako Aratani is a furniture designer and sculptor based in Detroit, born and raised in Japan. She studied product and furniture design at Chiba University before pursuing a master's degree in 3D Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Following her graduation in 2016, she established her studio practice in Pontiac, Michigan.

 

Her expertise and contributions to the field of design have been widely recognized, and she has received numerous awards, including the iF Design Award, UNESCO Design City Worldwide Things Collection, MUJI International Design Award Bronze prize, Good Design Award, and Saku Library Chair Design Competition Gold prize. Her work has been featured in many prominent exhibitions, including a solo show as part of the Aratani Fay duo at Salon Gallery, a retail/museum presentation at "Idea House 3" in Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, the group exhibition "Never Normal" at Wasserman Project Gallery, as well as ICFF+WantedDesignManhattan, Architectural Design Digest Show in NYC, Salone Satellite in Milan, Collective Design in NYC, and the Interior Design Show in Toronto. Her accomplishments have been featured in renowned publications such as Dezeen, Dwell, Architectural Digest Magazine, Alive Magazine, and Azure magazine.

Interview Article

"From Tokyo to Pontiac: Ayako Aratani on Design, Craft, and Nature" An interview article with Jake Yuzna from the Walker Art Center has been published online. In the interview, Ayako discussed my relocation from Tokyo to Pontiac and provided insights into my studio practice.

Photo by Kameron Herndon. Courtesy Walker Art Center | 2023

Studio Video

The interview with Jake Yuzna from the Walker Art Center was recorded in a video format as well. 

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