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Arts

Century-old Japanese furniture finds new life in millennial homes

Startup shifts to rental service as corporate buyers become scarce amid pandemic

Yes restores antique Japanese furniture and adds its own artistic touches to create unique pieces. (Photo from company's Instagram account)

TOYAMA, Japan -- The city of Takaoka is far from sprawling metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, with a population of under 200,000 it lays on the Sea of Japan. It is also a lucky place, having escaped the firebombings that devastated much of the country during World War II. This left it with a unique resource -- intact century-old furniture gathering dust in the storehouses of many homes.

One small company has tapped this resource to offer refurbished antiques that are now available to adorn homes throughout the country for a subscription fee.

Yes -- written with the Japanese character for "house," or ie -- has converted a nearly 100-year-old traditional storehouse in the nearby port town of Himi into a modern-feeling showroom, with unique Japanese cabinets, Western-style sofas and other items on display.

Among the pieces are a dresser patterned with colorful geometric designs and a chest with a transparent lime-green acrylic sheet attached to the back for a futuristic look.

Yes restores and decorates antique furniture, then sells to restaurants and other businesses. The startup has sold more than 20 items in the year or so since its launch.

But demand from stores has collapsed amid the coronavirus pandemic, prompting the company to expand its sales channels to individual consumers with the rental service that started in June.

The Yes showroom in Himi, a converted warehouse, features a variety of upcycled Japanese-style furniture. (Photo by Masashi Ijichi)

Most of the items available for purchase at Yes carry price tags of $1,000 or more, with some costing as much as $6,000 -- too expensive for a casual purchase. The subscription model enables regular consumers to access these artistic pieces for a low monthly fee, starting at just over $20, with the option to return or buy them later.

"The service is seeing growing use among customers in their 30s in the greater Tokyo and Osaka regions", said President Masanori Ito.

"Those lovely cabinets fell out of use as houses with closets became more widespread," which sparked the idea of an upcycling business, Ito said.

Yes has also launched what it calls the "Re-Bear Project" to bring back carved wooden bears, traditional crafts from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido that once were ubiquitous in Japanese living rooms but have since fallen by the wayside.

In addition to furniture, Yes sells traditional carved bears from Hokkaido painted with unique patterns. (Photo from company's Facebook account)

The company works with more than 10 artists to repaint bears with unique patterns, like blue camouflage or patchworks of color. Prices start at about $150 but can run significantly higher. The bears have won praise for their design, and can be found in such spaces as a WeWork shared office in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district.

The next step for Yes, after the coronavirus pandemic, will be bringing its furniture overseas. The company plans to hold an exhibition of cabinets and other items in London next May.

"Japanese furniture on its own won't sell," Ito said. "We want to use our artistry to break into foreign markets."

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