Stepping Lightly

A conversation with Yuki Watanabe, President of Conde House, about the company’s ethos of craft and sustainability.
Modern dining room table and chairs with 3 pendant lights hanging above.

Above Image: The TEN chair and dining table, a collaboration with Berlin-based designer Michael Schneider.

By Anh-Minh Le

On Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, is the city of Asahikawa. About an hour’s drive from Mount Asahi and located in a landscape verdant with forests, it is the home of Conde House, a 52-year-old furniture company that is inextricably connected with the trees. Most of the company’s collections are crafted of Japanese Oak and Ash, and as a result, it has established a symbiotic relationship with the local woods: Conde House uses sustainable lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification; only non-toxic glues and finishes; and has been planting oaks on its own land since 2000.

President Yuki Watanabe joined the company in 1976, and over 44 years has guided its evolution. Watanabe launched Conde House’s first San Francisco showroom in 1984 as its first move into the USA market. It later moved to the SFDC, where its space was designed by Frost Tsuji Architects as an exquisite modern interpretation of a Machiya, a traditional Japanese merchant artisan house. Here, Watanabe speaks with HENRY about Conde House’s focus on sustainability and craftsmanship.  

Man sanding the wood frame of a chair.

An artisan crafts a Wing side chair

HENRY: What does Nippon no Monozukuri, the term capturing the spirit of Japanese craftsmanship, mean to you?

Yuki Watanabe: What distinguishes Japanese craftsmanship is its long history: the ancestors’ wisdom has accumulated for more than 2,000 years, and craftsmanship has improved and evolved. Conde House always values simple, functional, and long-lasting products.

Dense green woods going up side of a mountain.

H: How does the mill’s locale—amidst the forests of Hokkaido—influence the work of the House?

YW: The beautiful forests always instill a feeling of awe for nature.

Three round cocktail tables with the appearance of woven bases and cork tops.

The Kina ottoman, designed by Michael Trubridge in Japanese Birch with Cork top.

H: Sustainability is at the core of your brand. Can you share how that informs what you do?

YW: We try hard to use local resources as much as possible, so that we can minimize our environmental load. We also consider the effective use of local natural resources in the context of design, because our city, Asahikawa, joined the UNESCO Network of Creative Cities as a Design City last year.

H: Your employees continue to plant new trees in those forests, a practice started by founder Minoru Nagahara.

YW: We have planted about 2,000 White Oak saplings since 2000; each year, we plant on a weekend in May.    

Modern restaurant dining room set for service with banquette seating in front of floor to ceiling glass overlooking the mountains.

A new interior for the Panorama Restaurant at the Das Kranzbach hotel designed by Ilse Crawford featuring the Conde House Kamuy chair, designed by Naoto Fukasawa. Photo credit: Hotel Kranzbach GmbH / Anneliese Kompatscher

H: What can we look forward to from Conde House in 2021?

YW: We are currently in a hard time because of Covid-19 and many other global challenges, but I’m happy to be a part of an eco-friendly industry like furniture making. I would like to make better products that are more useful with less environmental load.

Large tunnel like concrete hall dressed with long wooden conference table and lined with chairs.

The Machiya-inspired Conde House showroom at the SFDC, designed by San Francisco’s Frost Tsuji Architects. Photo Credit: Mariko Reed.

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103