We visited Mr. Kazuto Kobayashi at his home in a quiet residential area, a little away from the city of Kichijoji. The house, as seen through the trees in the approaches, looked like a mountain hut built with logs. But having mortar wall partially, it also has modern appearance. Vintage chairs and wooden boxes, tools placed randomly in the garden bring the atmosphere to the perfection as a whole. Mr. Kobayashi is the owner of the shops “Roundabout” and “Outbound” both are quite different in style. Each of them has a wonderful collection of daily items carefully selected to meet his taste. Recently, he published a book in which he committed from writing to styling and now he also started career as writer.
At IDÉE, he contributed to our new catalogue published in March as stylist and promoted the new images of IDÉE.
Despite being so busy he gave us a warm welcome as always. While hearing the lovely conversation of his wife Noriko and their kids, Kotoko and Kai, we interviewed him all about his work and his family.
Kobayashi: Everything started off with an encounter with the site of Roundabout. I graduated from university in 1999 spring but I had no job at that time.
– What was your major? K: Interior design.
– Were you interested in interior design since before?
K: I was interested in furniture design rather than space design. When I was in junior high school, I borrowed a book of Luigi Colani from library. I didn’t know him but I was so shocked with his works. “Wow, these are absolutely different from what I knew!” That experience introduced me to the world of design. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do so I just decided to study interior design at Tama Art University. I thought there I would learn furniture design intensively but the fact was that we had to make a series of models and sketches most of the time. I wasn’t happy about that at all. Maybe I had been somewhat allergic to the commercial spaces being suffered from the feeling against the mood of post bubble economy (smile).
K: I wasn’t very sure of what I wanted to do among the job opportunities I’ve got. So I had only two job applications. One of them was IDÉE.
K: They were looking for the new graduates so I applied. But my ambition wasn’t enough to reach them (smile). What impressed me most was the message from Mr. Kurosaki (founder of IDÉE) given for all the candidates. He said “we sell furniture but we edit.” When we say “edit”, I would have thought only of books and images before. But his idea “editing the shop management” sounded very new to me.
K: To be honest, I applied a job at IDÉE almost as an experiment. But that experience gave me quite an impact after all. I failed with the other job application though I was very close to get. So I graduated from university without any appointment. Most of my friends from the same or neighboring art universities were like that. Making some portfolios, getting together and we used to say “we want to do something” (smile). Quite soon after the graduation, one of our group members came with the information that there was a premise in Kichijoji for rent just for a week. That is the future Roundabout. We visited the site, and its open space was perfect. “Let’s do something here!” “What shall we do in a week?” We started the discussion. We thought of a group exhibition. But it may end up between ourselves and friends. We wanted to do something that gets us connected with many people. We used to have thoughts to open a shop since before so it was easy to conclude to open one week shop. We started the preparation immediately and we named it “Roundabout”.
– I always wanted to ask you why it was named Roundabout.
K: We had some images like “Junction” or “Terminal” which reminds us of traffic stream. We also thought it was interesting to joint two simple words to create unfamiliar sound being inspired by Rotary Connection of Minnie Riperton. We wanted our place to be like a junction where lots of people and things with various backgrounds can mingle.
K: Yes, mixture of sound, image and meaning, here comes the name Roundabout. One of us who was a graphic designer took care of all design stuffs including opening flyers. Since the shop was just for a week, we even went out to nearby Inokashira Park to scatter the flyers (smile). Without say, we didn’t have any connections with makers and wholesalers. So we made promotion T shirts by silk screen printing by ourselves. We bought imported vintage items at American school bazaar, bought old flip clocks from Salvation Army, had some postcards made by our friend, bought some overalls made of nonwoven-fabric which were very rare that time from DIY shop. Lots of funny ideas (smile).
K: Mostly. The final choice should be made by the one who bought it that would reflect his taste. Our current selection is different from that time but we are still comprehensive. Old and modern, domestic and imported, comprehensiveness is and will always be our style.
K: Pretty good. We handled it like a garage sale. We even had an old Nintendo Game Watch.
– It’s just like “METEOR”, the shop opposite your Roundabout (smile).
K: Mr. Sakagami, the owner of METEOR, is the original member of Roundabout. He strictly keeps his style.
K: Yes, it used to be a cabaret called “Club Yoro”. I wasn’t sure in the beginning but when I checked the map of the neighboring area at city hall, I found it was true (smile). The place has been transformed several times. Once was a tuition school. When he moved into the premise, it was all covered by gypsum boards and the lightning was tube light. As we all didn’t have money, instead of using paint we bought buckets, sponges and detergent and washed off the shabby wall papers (smile). We have come through with our ideas, power of youth and physical toughness.
K: No, it was opened in August of the same year. We were five in the group at the time of the one week shop but then one of us got another job, one more member left abroad for study so we were three when Roundabout was opened. During the preparation, we went to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to buy old portable music players. We sought for 1960’s and 70’s style. Our selection was more “nostalgic“ than “classic”.
K: I don’t really like the word nostalgic. I prefer “classic” which seems to allow much various interpretation. We were quite categorized to the certain age style at first. We used to get stocks from local flea markets, Salvation Army…then we gradually started deals with wholesalers. One of our customers told us about the cash-and–carry wholesaler at TOC building in Gotanda. When the “Floor”(a café located in the 2nd floor of the TOC building) was opened, they advised us to visit wholesalers for professional kitchen items. There, we started buying universal items like stainless trays and so on. Our shop was filled with used domestic electric appliances, Alan Fletcher’s melamine ash trays…quite a few of the items were in bright colors which created a different mood from now.
K: I used to think that each and every item should absolutely reflect my taste but I realized that it makes difficult to establish consistency. So I needed to “edit”. And also I came to feel more attracted with items that have unchanged charm over the years. As we meet more items, we became more conscious of what we like. Try new item, see how it sits in the shop, if we like it give it a go. Lot of trial and error until our style was established. Gradually, members left one by one developing each own styles and I became alone in May 2005. I admit that I couldn’t make such achievement if I were alone from the beginning. Meanwhile, I also think I’m pretty self-sufficient person. It was great to have started with my friends and it’s great to be alone as well.
K: I can say so. It was good we started when we were young and energetic. But soon you will find the difference in preference of each member. I was so uncertain of my capability of shop management when the last member was leaving. But it didn’t take much time before I started feeling assured again.
– When was the Outbound opened?
K: I didn’t intend to open the second shop such soon. There was a lot of work I had at Roundabout. When I was looking for my house, I also asked if there was any nice place for shop. In fact, Roundabout site has been planned to be demolished, it only had no due date. So I had to save the risk anyway (smile). I thought it was good to simulate the procedure in case demolition is finally performed. I expected to take two or three years to find my ideal space in Kichijoji. But it was just found in a few months, even before find my house (smile). It was a perfect location.
K: The town of Kichijoji has two aspects, good and not good. If the street is too busy, I don’t think I could handle the shop management in desirable pace. I’m happy to welcome customers who visit us with interest but it’s quite heartbreaking for me to receive customer who just drop by putting on earphones so that he cannot hear even if I greet. So I wanted the location where people really have to target to visit us. I really wondered if it was a proper time to open the second shop but I decided to give a try. So Outbound was opened in 2009. Alongside, I came to find interest in items that are not really essential in everyday life. For example, here are some of works of Mr. Yukiharu Kumagai, an earthware potter. I came to like these.
– How do they attract you especially?
K: I simply love the way they are. Also because their charm is so complicated that it’s not easy to describe why I love them.
– It acts over your instinct?
K: Let’s say they link to the human instinct. Or simply I like the texture and the color. But most importantly, I love their anonymity. The item made to offer a specific function specifically works to help get things done easily or quickly. While these items have no such specific function but they offer happiness and relaxation, or some kind of inspiration in everyday life. I believe they have such “function”. In meantime, I found interest in handwork which adds a little specialness in everyday routine. But if these items were placed together in Roundabout, the ruggedness of Roundabout would be disrupted. I was afraid that the shop may become “too arranged”. As Mr. Shinro Ohtake used an expression “miscellany“ in his book which I personally interpret as “uncompleted beauty, state of being un-unified”. I wanted to keep such edginess at Roundabout. Just like making a partition between two of my images, I started another shop with a different view. People often misunderstand that the Outbound genuinely represents my style. But Roundabout is also absolutely one of my styles that I can’t miss. To represent both style perfectly I opened the Outbound. It helped me to figure out the standards of my choice. To explain differences between the two shops, I would say the Roundabout is a “diary” and the Outbound is a “letter”. I feel easy to write a diary but writing a letter for me is not that easy. I need to be more serious when I write letter than diary. I have such difference in mind. Roundabout is everyday issue, Outbound is something further. But in fact Roundabout shares some features (smile). It has a bit sense of Outbound.
– Roundabout is 90% consisted of everyday factor while Outbound is mainly consisted of “out of everyday” factor. With such difference yet we find a link between them. That’s the charm of the two shops, I think?
K: Exactly. Some items can be found in both shop. You may find some Outbound at Roundabout.
– From selection to display, all is done according to such concept. Is the display arranged by yourself? I know when you arrange the shop display, you do it throughout the night.
K: I will have to work all through the night before opening of exhibition. I hope it can be done perfectly by my staffs, but it hardly goes that way so I end up doing all by myself. In fact, I like to do it by myself. Even on daily basis, display balance changes when some items are sold and gone also when new items arrive. The question is always there; how to display them. I usually face dilemma if I should leave the work to my staffs or do it by myself. After all, most of the case I do it by myself (smile). I hope I can pass my concept perfectly, but I am the type of person who can realize it only by action…
K: My job is to coax out the item’s best position. So I just keep looking for it.
– You would think not only space but also circumstance. The best location and best circumstance for each item…you will find it very well since all is a choice of yours and you know all about your shop.
K: When I worked at IDÉE as a DJ, I wasn’t aware of such thought at all (smile). I just kept playing the music I liked, regardless the atmosphere of the shop. I play Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” then soon Mr. Oshima approaches to reduce the volume…I miss those days (smile). For Outbound, I place items to be seen. For Roundabout I place them to be found. I want to create sharp and clean space for Outbound while at Roundabout I want to provide joy of discovery like a joy of treasure hunting at flea markets.
– Switching the topic, I’d like to ask you about your house. This house is very impressive all over from the approaches. What do you like about this house?
K: Since I got the place for Outbound, I stopped searching for my house. But I had a recommendation by the house agent about this house. So I googled the street view. Maybe because the view was in winter scene, the place looked so shabby. But I took a chance to see the actual site without much expectation. Well, I was quite impressed with the built-in closet at the entrance. Then I went upstairs, the room was filled with gentle sunlight. A picture of new life was emerged in me. I never thought of living in a log house but I simply felt comfortable here. With nice wooden window frames, nothing is really missed in this house. I immediately decided to take it. In this house, everywhere looks like wood is made of real wood. It has a charm like nice vintage clothing. I will be here for some time.
– Where is your favorite place and when is the best time in this house?
K: I love to be on my chair in the sunny living room around 6 in the morning. I feel very relaxed receiving sunlight from side.
K: Not really. But I definitely refuse any compromise when it comes to my shop (smile). The shop always comes first. Now I have some items here at home which I initially bought for my shop. I wasn’t willing to do so before. I would better display them in the shop than keep them in my house. But I came to think my shop should be an output of my private life style. So now I don’t want to put my private living aside.
– Do you have anything that you think unsuitable for the shop but you like to have in your house?
K: A lamp which I bought at the flea market in Berlin. It didn’t fit in Roundabout so it’s been kept out for some time. When I moved into this house I brought it. It sat perfectly, which was a nice discovery. Being inspired by Bruno Munari, if you collect items just because they are well-known designer’s work, it is nothing but a collection of symbols. I don’t find any interest in such state. The view or style of the person should be exposed otherwise there’s no chance for sympathy. Or show the fondness for certain era or designer. I want to see the preference of the owner.
K: I’m quite sure I will go senile if I stop my business (smile). Bury me in my shop when I die…
– And you want to wander around the shop saying “that display is not right!” Even now if I go to your shop I detect your presence so much without your actual presence (smile).
K: That’s the perfect compliment for me. I really want to make my shop full of ME (smile).
– Is there anything or anybody you like to refer when you display the shops?
K: I love looking through imported books. Those books must have some influence over me. Look at this book, the installations of Joseph Beuys. And this one, Kurt Schwitters, he is a German Dadaist worked in sound, poetry, installation art and collages.
K: As you know, my theme is “Collection and Display”.
– (Laughter) It was also your theme for furniture styling at IDÉE.
K: I saw an installation of Joseph Beuys titled “Block Beuys” in Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt. That inspired me to order the big showcase placed in Outbound. I’m fond of the texture of materials used in his installations rather than of his ideology.
– I can feel your world.
K: Look at this Shaker’s book. I love the items they make and how they are situated.
K: No, I am interested in their eccentric features though. I hope to see their dance in the meeting too. I like Vilhelm Hammershoi for painting. I’m attracted with the emptiness and stillness of the room with nobody, acute angled sunlight streaming through the window. When I appointed an architect Mr. Niizeki Ken-ichiro of NIIZEKI STUDIO for interior design of Outbound, I suggested him to see works of Vilhelm Hammershoi, Johannes Vermeer and Giorgio Morandi to share the image.
– So it’s more like exploring what you like than searching for what you like?
K: In beginning at Roundabout, I didn’t know how to represent my vision out of the items I got. But I came to figure it out while physically seeking for the better display day and night. Repeat of a simple training. Now I know it’s all about how I feel – comfortable or not.
– Do you have any specific house or place you would like to live next time?
K: Since I had my kids I think it’s desirable to live closer to our parents. Speaking of the house, I like to live in the space perfectly designed as I like. However, after the 3.11 earthquake disaster I also have a feeling that to own house could restrict the free move. I surely wanted my own house before but now I don’t think that’s the only answer.
K: I like to extend my work including styling, writing a regular column for renewed magazine POPEYE. I also had a chance to write a little essay for the magazine “Kangaeruhito – Plain living, High thinking” of Shinchosha Publishing co, ltd. Besides, my precious shop management, needless to say. There are some issues I’ve been concerned over the years. I want to improve my staffs’ working circumstance to promote their performances. As summer is gone, Roundabout counts its 14th anniversary. It’s good time for renewal. I also like to organize music live events in my shop as before with Mr. Goro Itoh and Tsukinowa members.
– I’m looking forward to all of them. Please let me join the event. Thank you so much for today.
After the interview the conversation still continued for quite long time talking about the former participation in the group exhibition at IDÉE, part-time job experience, future stock plans and so on. Quite a few topics were new to me. I recognized his nice and unique personality again. I am very much looking forward to his further activity.
Profile : Kazuto Kobayashi 1975 Born in Tokyo, spent childhood in Australia and Singapore.
1999 Open Roundabout in Kichijoji after graduate from Tama Art University.
2008 Open Outbound. Buyer and display designer. Planner of the seasonal exhibitions at both shop. Stylist, Writer. Book “timeless, self-evident”.