Chabu Project


I am working on establishing a new part of my business focusing on product design.  I am going to launch a new website featuring Chabu in many different variations.  I am most excited about the artist series I am going to curate where various artists will customize the Chabu as they wish.

I have illustrators, painters, woodworkers, glass, metal, laser, felt, carbon fiber, and a recycled skateboard artist.  These artists are very talented in their own right and I am fortunate that they are willing to collaborate with me on this project.  The diversity of the energies they bring to the project will propel it forward as well as enrich my life as a designer.

I cant wait to see the range of customization these talented artists bring to this project.  Id like to have a local show in a gallery as well.  Im really excited about this project.  I really think it will help everyone by connecting us all together in a web.

Kitty is excited about the Chabu project as well.

Ive posted a few of my pieces for sale on an online design supermarket

The site is a curated collection of design goods from hundreds of designers.  There is a lot of cool stuff on there.  Take a look!

Last Friday I had the chance to go to Oregon Manifest, an event showcasing handmade custom bicycles.  The event took up two floors at the Leftbank project near the rose garden arena.  I was amazed at the pure number of vendors at this event, meaning Portland has a substantial enough bike culture to support so many local bike businesses.

A reporter from the Oregonian approached me and interviewed me for a featured article which was published on the front page of the metro section of Saturdays paper.

here is an excerpt:

Ken Tomita got his first road bike two weeks ago but insists he’s not “really into bicycles at all.”

Still, the Southeast Portland 30-year-old liked a lot of what he saw Friday at Oregon Manifest, a two-day showcase of handmade bikes at Leftbank Project, 1618 N. Vancouver Ave., in Portland.

“I really like seeing people who take things to the limit, who customize or do innovative things with new materials,” Tomita said. “So I’m here to check out what people have done.”


Tomita, who runs a custom furniture company, said the show brings together people who take a craftsman’s approach in a mass-produced society.

“I think it’s amazing that our society — at least in Portland — is going in the other direction,” he said, “toward locally made, high quality, instead of cheap and fast and disposable.”

Im encouraged to see how people in Portland value high quality locally made goods.  The trend towards specialization and niche businesses extends beyond bikes.  Hopefully, the demand for hand made high quality furniture will see a jump in demand like the market for custom bicycles.

Im designing a coat hanger/umbrella holder for a new client.  Theyve given me a lot of creative freedom and Im taking full advantage.  They like my kibako bookstand so thats a good start. Ill use the 1.5″  bamboo countertop material ripped into 1.5″ x 1.5″ strips.

They also like my use of the sumi ink for contrast.  Their criteria function wise are somewhat relaxed.  They have a closet for coats right by the entry so this coat hanger would be mostly for sculptural purposes.  They require it to hold 2-3 coats and 2 umbrellas with the reality being that most of the time there would actually be nothing on there at all.  Nonetheless, the design of this piece is driven by function.  What are the different ways to hang coats and umbrellas?  How is the structure going to be stable and not fall over?  I need to consider the possibilities of free standing, wall mounted, suspended, and any combination.

My initial inspiration is the form of a tree.  I like the idea of branches holding the coats.  Another gesture that comes to mind is a field of long grass or a bamboo grove.  Upwards movement would be nice in this space.   There is a window at the height of 67″.  The horizontal line of the sill is something I need to fight to get the feeling I want.

I narrowed the possibilities down to three concepts and made 1/3 scale models out of plywood scraps and my trusty hot glue gun.  The overall height is about 7ft

I met with the clients and we have decided to proceed with the center design direction.  Time to input the model into sketchup and play around with proportions and color.

Here is the latest edition modeled in sketchup in two colors.  I concentrated on staggering the distances between the “branches” to create more movement in the piece.  At  the bottom they are closer together and become more spread apart as you go upward.    I was looking for a progression similar to a sine curve or fibonacci sequence.  The height has been increased quite a bit to go over the window sill plane.

The latest design change.  Client has requested it handle 3 coats and 2 umbrellas.  I raised the whole thing up by 10″ so that the third one up is at 40″, an acceptable height for hanging coats.

Construction commenced!  Dadoing out the slits for the splines in this photo.

Splines are done with katalox, a dark mexican hardwood.

Electric Picnic Music Festival is a 3 day outdoor music festival in Stradbaly, Ireland that took place august 29-31. The festival is known for emphasis on public art and includes poets, comedians, the circus, a ferris wheel, movie theater and other elements not usually seen at these outdoor concerts.  First international project for team BambooDNA.

Wow- the story starts with bad news.   The container we had shipped to Ireland from Columbia full of 400 large bamboo poles got stuck in customs in Rotterdam and would not arrive in time for the festival.  This amount of material was our most ambitious yet- even more than Coachella.  NONE of this material would be arriving.  All we have is our minds, bodies, and a few hand tools.

These bamboo sculpture projects have always been an exercise in flexibility.  Something always goes drastically wrong and we have to improvise.  The team has gotten used to it and gained confidence in the face of adversity to the point where when we heard that the bamboo was not arriving we merely shrugged and started to set up camp.  No problem, well figure something out.  Not much sense of panic in team bamboo!

We set out harvesting materials from around the site.  The land was private so with permission from the landowner we spent the first two days looking for and gathering material.  Its hard to believe that a normal family lives here.  They have 5 acres of roofs to maintain on the property!

First we erected the three main columns.  The plan is to build a giant willow ring on the ground.  The rings was tied with a series of clove hitches and reinforced with willow weaving. Led by Lynda the weaving team leader, the long skinny willows were painstakingly woven in one by one.   We were to then lift the entire ring up solely with human power.  Our resident rigger Brandon can do amazing things with rope and pulleys.  These complicated lifts would not be possible without him.  Of course, Brandon was out of commission with back spasms so he had to direct us to do all the work.

The first lift was a failure.  The forces exerted on the ring when we lifted pushed the inside oculus together and we lost the form.  After lowering the ring once again we fortified the center with a willow ring and tried again.  The second lift was a success.  Now, we started constructing a second smaller ring to go above the first one.  One of our irish volunteers Tom and I scrapped the weaving technique we used for the first ring and instead built two large wreath like structures with willow.  We strapped the offshooting willow branches to these two rings and hoped for the best.  LIFT!   A crowd gathered and laughed at how absurd this lift looked.  Kevin did an amazing job of manuevering the second ring until Ryan and Jenn could secure it into place.  Once the second ring was in the crew up there could relax.  Looks like a nice place to hang out!

Because our material didnt arrive this project changed in scale dramatically.  Though not nearly as big as we had originally planned, the new sculpture we built involved a lot more detail work and craft than we usually get a chance to do.  Our local willow artist Lusi and her teenage son Ollie spearheaded a team building lanterns.  Incredibly complex, these structures probably took a full day each for one person.  Marisha led the design and building of benches made out of solid wood slabs.  Our young Aussie Dana led all things related to sledgehammers and axes.  On the last day we all carved totem poles, leaving our signature touch on the project.

Not having our bamboo was actually a good thing.  We learned to work with a new material and learned to work in a new way.  The spirit of Electric Picnic is more about craft than the american music festivals where prefabricated truss structures and tents dominate.  We were true to the spirit this year due to our adversity.

The structure was quite successful as a hang out area during the concert. The benches provided unorthodox sitting angles for conversation and the structure lit up pretty nice at night. We didnt have our usual lighting guru/mad scientist/pyrotechnician, Alan so we settled for floodlamps that the festival provided.

We all learned alot from this project.  Being flexible, staying calm and positive in the face of adversity and just doing the best you can with what you have were all good lessons.  All good things must come to an end.  Teardown was easy.  The site looked apocalyptic with all the trash around.  We burned what we could.  No attachments….

ShowPDX 2008


Last night was the big opening party for ShowPDX 2008.  Put on by FIX studios and sponsored by Design Within Reach this now biannual furniture design contest is a great show every time.

This year the venue moved from the DWR store in the Pearl to the newly LEED remodeled architecture building at PSU.  The PSU arch students I talked to were all very happy to be in their new space.  There were 50 pieces this year, more than ever before.  The venue had a central elevated space and overflow pieces filled the surrounding hallways.  A less than ideal setup.  By 6:30 there were so many people crammed into the space that you couldnt see anything.  At least 500 people.

My piece was tucked in strange spot.  I was a little disappointed because I had originally designed it to go in the center of a room.  It is a sculpture intended to be viewed from 360 degrees.  When I arrived the glass top had been put on backwards, pretty much ruining any chance it had in the competition as well.  Nonetheless, i put those setbacks behind me and enjoyed the show.  I dont think in terms of woulda, coulda, shouldas.  Hopefully it will find a happier final resting place.

There were some great pieces and some mediocre.  Immediately what caught my eye was a table/bench set by David Seoane.  There was a brilliant pattern routed into the tabletop and filled with yellow epoxy.  I saw on his site last night how he did it and am very impressed with his skill as well as his eye for design.  Great job David! Im planning on contacting him to collaborate someday.

These shows are really great for networking and meeting fellow furniture designers.  Im starting to recognize people from previous shows:  Terry Bostwick was there as well as the guys from Reform furniture.  David Bertman, who had my favorite piece at the previous show was there.  He and I graduated from the same high school, Catlin Gabel.  We met a more recent graduate of Catlin, Joseph Wessinger who submitted a very innovative folding chair.  Our woodshop teacher, Tom Tucker came by and must have felt very proud to have three students from three different generations in this show.  He is clearly doing a very good job!

I had the pleasure of meeting some fellow designers for the first time.  David Laubenthal had a set of stools and a lamp made from pallet scraps.  Scott Bord had two steel/plywood stools in the show.  I also met Chad Wykhuis who does salvage remodeling.

Many of my family and friends came to show their support from all areas of my life.  These shows are great in that all the unrelated social networks I have come together at once.  Its a jolt of energy for my creative spirit.  Thank you everyone for coming and showing your continued support.  Also, much thanks to Jen Jako and Chris Bleiler of FIX studios for their efforts in putting on the show.  I cant wait for 2010….

Another build by the Bamboo DNA crew.  We built a 80ft tall 10ft diameter bamboo structure at the All Points West Music Festival at Liberty Point State Park featuring Radiohead and Jack Johnson.  There are no mechanical fasteners- everything is held together in tension by woven bamboo slats.

The setting was nothing short of spectacular.  The NYC skyline, Ellis Island, and the statue of liberty right in front of us.  The park is so huge and wide open it was a strange experience to be so close to manhattan and feel so alone.

The structure consists of 30 20ft long guadua bamboo poles.  We built a temporary 2×4 framework whose dimensions and positions were calculated in advance. 

Bamboo poles were temorarily lashed to the framework.  Then, the real fun begins.  20ft long bamboo slats are woven into the structure in an alternating pattern.  Opposing forces create structure with enough redundancy and the framework can be removed.  This work is brutal, requiring teams of 3-5 people shoving the slats through inch by inch.

The work gets more difficult towards the tip of the cone.  As the radius gets tighter the tension and friction increase to the point where it takes four people lunging at once to move a slat an inch at times.  Both out of necessity and for style the slats start to angle upwards at the top.

The lift is always the most risky and exciting part of the project.  Without access to a large crane we had to do a delicate balance using a grade-all and forklift.  Luckily we have a rigging expert, Brandon on the team.  He made two rope rings that distributed the load evenly among the 12 columns for the lift.  These also became attachment points for the guy wires which he would rig later.

Once erected Brandon went to work with the guy wires.  After this point the power equipment went away and we adjusted the angle of tower purely with human power using a system of 6 pulleys.  The system creates a 6 to 1 power advantage.  With four people weighing a total of 600 lbs you can generate 3600 lbs of force.

The final day of the build was spent on touch up, building the deck, canopy feature, and lighting.  The deck is a 2x 6 structure clad in bamboo in a star of david pattern.  It also served to brace the structure during the lift.

Allen and James did a great job with the lighting.  They also setup a propane torch at the top of the spire, 80ft overhead.  All in all an impressive build.  10 people, 4.5 days.  This may be the tallest bamboo structure ever made in the US…..