For those familiar with The Peninsula Hotels chain—and the refined afternoon tea service that takes place in the lobby of its eight hotels worldwide—walking into its newest outpost in Tokyo may give visitors a slight pause. A continuous screen made from tall, vertical bars of bright, blond wood wrap the oval room, as if it were the hull of an expensive, elegant ship. Entering the lobby, guests pass under a crystal chandelier made of LED lights in the shape of an inverted dome and walk toward a dragon-inspired bamboo sculpture that looks like a long, prickly lizard’s tail, hunched over a rolled-up bale of hay.
Bringing this air of Japanese refinement to the stately and traditionally prim decor of The Peninsula is the work of Tokyo-based designer Yukio Hashimoto. “We used a lot of handmade techniques to create the interiors of the hotel,” he says.
The largest and most recently completed of Hashimoto’s projects, The Peninsula abounds in hand-worked details, from the senbon-goshi, a type of latticework, to the grid-like lines carved into the walls and the cherrywood screens behind the desk. In total, 60 artisans and craftsmen were enlisted in the project. “Often, the design concept never changes. But small details will come from the artists and that will change small elements,” says Hashimoto.
The designer started his studio nearly 11 years ago after leaving the offices of Japanese design firm Super Potato. Despite its name, which sounds like a funky and bizarre malapropism, Super Potato has operated like a large design conglomerate in Japan and abroad for the past decade, working on hotel projects such as the Park Hyatt Seoul and the new Jumeirah hotel in Shanghai, bringing a kind of refined, precise Japanese style and mixing of organic materials, such as big pieces of heavy stone and rough-hewn wood.
Super Potato’s style, in a way, continues on with Hashimoto’s work—stately and refined, but with a taste for the irreverent. Most important, there is an element of craft that brings a warm touch to spaces other Japanese designers might render a bit too sterile. “Super Potato had a strong influence on me, of course,” says Hashimoto. “And I feel like I am performing the same role in my studio as I did back at the firm—coordinating with craftsmen, connecting the different contractors and creating something unique using traditional things.”
In project after project, Hashimoto’s style ranges from reserved and refined—lots of blond woods and shoji screens—to a bit more theatrical or technologically inspired. For the restaurant Teiryo in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, Hashimoto separated the dark basement-level dining area from a walkway with a thin screen of fiber-optic cable—almost like nylon fishing lines—that, when lit, has a luminous, sparkling effect and almost appears like an invisible wall.
Hashimoto’s work, which involves natural materials and myriad craftsmen, stands out in the current field of Japanese design, which seems to favor simplicity and industrial materials as witnessed in projects such as Yoshio Taniguchi’s Museum of Modern Art or Tadao Ando’s concrete and glass structures. However, despite the physical differences in his work, Hashimoto finds his thinking quite relatable to the current design field. “Mr. Ando and Mr. Taniguchi have a way of using space that is the same, and also using concrete that is very natural in style,” comments Hashimoto. “I also try to think of one material and use it in its most natural style. In that way, they approach their industrial materials in a similar way that I use my materials, like natural stone and stucco.”
After finishing a monumental project like The Peninsula—with more than 300 rooms, some of the largest in Tokyo—Hashimoto continues apace with another hospitality project, this one on a much smaller scale: He’s working on a ryokan, or a traditional Japanese-style inn, located in the Akita Prefecture of Japan. But regardless of the scale of the project, he says, “I want my ideas to give happiness to the general public—like designing a park, or public project—and work more toward connecting design with daily life.”