The Way of Tea

The history of design and the history of tea have always been intertwined. But just how closely are they connected today?

Charles and Ray Eames knew the beauty inherent in the Japanese tea ceremony, and over 65 years since they hosted such a ceremony in the Eames house, design and tea and back on the table together.

In their design as in their life, Charles and Ray Eames placed a critical importance on the relationship between guest and host. They knew that this interplay played a crucial role in life, and brought this to the fore when designing furniture, exhibitions and buildings. This was most clearly exemplified in 1951, when the husband and wife duo hosted a Japanese-style tea ceremony at the Eames House, inviting guests including Charlie Chaplin and Isamu Noguchi.

Over a quarter of a century later, Chiseko Niwa, executive board member of Japan Chapter, International Interior Design Association, planned her own tea for late June in Kanuma, in the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan. The idea to hold a Japanese tea ceremony in a space with Herman Miller furniture stems back to her time living in the United States, studying under Sosei Matsumoto, the very tea master who ran the tea ceremony at the Eames House in 1951.

In preparing the event, President Tanaka of authorized Herman Miller retailer Vanilla offered a space filled with vintage Eames furniture in an old house known as Kuga no Sho – a space he generously allowed for the tea ceremony to be held in.

Ms. Niwa decorated the house where the tea ceremony was held – and through careful cooperated with tea ceremony experts, Ms. Niwa was able to create a richly inspired space that combined Mr. Tanaka’s vintage Eames furniture, traditional Japanese washi paper and fabric, cushions made from Maharam fabric, and a mobile Japanese tea space, or Cha no ma.

With Ms. Niwa serving as the main host, the ceremony was co-run by Herman Miller Japan President Matsuzaki and his wife, with tea served with a summer flair using ice from Nikko. For the special event, the name of the space was changed from “Kuga no Sho” to “Yura Hiraan,” with the poetic “things that wave and flutter” chosen as the theme of the tea ceremony. Matching this theme, a playful mystery game was playing in the space, with Maraham cushions given to those who could find things in the room relating to the theme.

After the team ceremony, the 53 participants, comprising IIDA members alongside some lucky interior designers and coordinators, continued their design experience with a trip to the underground mine mark of Oya tuff stone favored by architects including Frank Lloyd Wright and the “Fully Nelson” special exhibition at the Vanilla store in Utsunomiya.