Talent issue - the designer: Tomoko Azumi

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The Independent Online

Design must have been in Tomoko Azumi's blood. From the age of eight she was saving pages from newspaper property supplements, collating the floor plans they contained, and using them to build her dream house. A dream house fashioned from cardboard, that is, but a meticulously built one all the same. What filled Azumi's childish playtime hours took root, though, and after a BA in Architecture and Space Design in her native Japan and three years in an architect's office in Tokyo, she had a creeping realisation that she "wanted to do things on a human scale".

This is how she found herself in London, taking an MA in Furniture Design at the Royal College of Art, and then on graduating in 1995 setting up a design business with her husband. Yet after 10 years of honing their skills as a team, the partnership came to an end, each branching out on their own, professionally and personally. TNA Design Studio, Tomoko's own company, was created from this split, bringing with it a new way of working. "It wasn't an easy time for me," says the 41-year-old, "so I was thinking about what I really wanted to do."

After working on the Craft Council's 2005-06 exhibition Table Manners, building unique flat-pack exhibition stands and playing with the notion of space and light, Tomoko came back to furniture and product design with an altered perspective. The paper of her youth became important again last year Habitat stocked her Square Moon design, a light made from layers of Yuki, a type of Japanese paper; next month, her miniature flat-packed lights with crystals that are hidden until the beam causes reflections and refractions across the lampshade, will be at the launch of the Swarovski Wedding range in Paris. And prepare to see her Twiggy lamp [pictured above] as soon as the Japanese manufacturers are able in the UK: a bulb triple-wrapped with twig shapes cut from a very thin sheet of non-flammable artificial paper. It is a beautifully simple design, one she describes as "a translation of feeling the feeling of walking in winter when I see low light through the twigs of trees, all overlapping shadows and lines. I wanted to recreate that atmosphere at home." Somewhat less whimsically, she is in the process of submitting design ideas for the UK Supreme Court when it opens in 2009 "the furniture won't be made of paper there," she laughs. "I have to make something more permanent."


Portrait by Kalpesh Lathigra