Kumiko wooden panels are beautiful decorative materials which are so unique in Western interiors market. They are mainly papered parts of shoji screen sliding doors, but can be much more ornate than grid patterns. They also decorate rooms between sliding doors and ceilings in traditional Japanese rooms. Japanese love wood in interiors, however, it often moves, shrinks and warps. Kumiko was developed to solve the problems by lessening the degree of the movement by making components smaller while it makes things much lighter as well as more beautiful.
There used to be many kumiko craftsmen in Japan, however, Japanese rooms are disappearing from newly built homes. The Kumiko market was hit by the move dramatically as it is so expensive. It requires highly skilled craftsmen with premium materials. Indeed, it takes at least ten years to train a craftsman to master the technique. Because of the intricate work, they can only use the part of wood. It has to be absolutely straight and knots free.
Our wooden panel supplier stepped up to the challenge of entering the shrinking industry of Japanese traditional crafts. Our supplier realised size specs matters in order to expand usage of the panels and reach out to markets outside Japan. They enabled themselves to produce larger panels using CAD. Japanese are good at maths, but it takes some time to spread a small geometrical pattern evenly for bespoke orders manually. A pattern must be completed fully at either end and each strip of wood has to have little slits at just the right places at the right angle.
We introduced the Fine Ornamental Woodwork Panel collection in 2014 after we were asked to source it in a Japanese restaurant project in London. I was amazed to find out they were using it for an awning for a seating area on a terrace with a glass panel. Since then, I find it fun to work with creative interior designers who are free from the traditional frameworks. They have been parts of beds, cabinetry and doors. They have become walls and ceilings. It is, of course, challenging sometimes, however, Kumiko definitely found a way to thrive outside of Japan.
“Kumiko” means assembling pieces. And, it is true that they are assembled, not nailed or fretted. Please click here for a video. The materials are prepared by machines, however, once the material is cut into small pieces, a craftsman adjusts slits and holes in each piece with planes and chisels. A craftsman has to have a delicate hand to shave off the wood; even 0.1mm of discrepancy makes it impossible for the tiny wooden pieces to fit together, especially on large pieces of work. Japanese planes are, by the way, wonderful tools. They come in so many sizes and are so sharp, which enable you to shave off wafer-thin slivers of wood whilst also making the wood shiny by drawing out the natural oil.
The basic patterns are diamond or triangle pattern, Kikko Triangles, which can be developed into a wider range of designs. You can see the triangle base which can become a “hemp leaf”. They say there are more than a hundred patterns which derived from the triangle base pattern by making smaller and smaller triangles within triangles. They can create pictures like mosaics by combining patterns as well as pieces of different shades of woods. Some panels are breathtaking artworks. Here is the supplier’s catalogue for the special range.