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October 12, 2021

Shin Okuda at his studio in LA
Shin Okuda is the founder and designer behind Waka Waka, a Los Angeles-based studio focusing on wood furniture & functional objects. His work ranges from residential furniture to full commercial build-outs, many of which can be seen around LA. We love Shin's use of plywood, and the warmth and even whimsy he achieves with color, curves and rounded shapes. At the same time, his pieces carry a subtle emphasis on functionality, and we admire Shin's ideas and innovations to that end. All of his creations are built by hand, and customized to fulfill the needs of the end user or space where they will live.
Having grown familiar with Shin's work over the years, we were very excited to spend some time with him in person.  We recently visited him at his Frogtown workshop over coffee. As usual, our friend Justin Chung joined us to shoot film. We hope you enjoy!
Shin Okuda making Canyon Coffee
Do you have a morning ritual? Has it changed over time?
The morning ritual is pretty consistent: coffee/tea, 2 eggs, stretch and go.  The evening routine is similar, after bathing I stretch and then have tea while watching or reading something.  Maybe the stretching time has extended as I’ve gotten older and the body demands that attention. I also watch a lot of Premier League soccer.
Shin Okuda of Waka Waka enjoying a cup of Canyon Coffee at his studio in LA
What was your path into designing and creating furniture? Is it something you always saw yourself doing?

In a way yes, but I never studied it, so I didn’t approach it strategically.  I worked for a sculptor doing fabrication and learned a lot from the studio and the team there.  Years later, my now-wife had a store, and she invited me to make some pieces for a small show about books.  Having a space to show my ideas gave me a larger framework for pursuing it professionally.

What excites you about making furniture? What do you hope to achieve through your creations?

I like that it is functional and is activated differently in home and commercial spaces.  Seeing how people use, need and value furniture brings good challenges to my idea-making. Designing with specific materials, finding the efficiency of that material and the form to translate lightness and simplicity in my particular vocabulary.  
Furniture at the Waka Waka Studio in LA
What drew you to Los Angeles? What do you appreciate about it, having lived here a few decades now?

I had a friend who was here and I made a final trip after a job in Arizona before returning to Japan, but then I stayed, tentatively…  
I like the idea of space and nature and light here.  I also like the opportunities you can make for yourself.  In Japan, it’s more rigid in how you can define yourself through work, or even in making your career choice.  
Canyon Coffee being made by Shin Okuda with a Moka Pot
We know you've been at it for awhile, but does it feel liberating, being a designer and your own boss?
It works for me, and there is always something to learn and aspire to.
Furniture and building supplies at the Waka Waka studio in LA
What do you like doing, outside of work? And do you have any books, films or artists you've enjoyed lately? I enjoy playing in a coed soccer league every week and try to play tennis often too.

We just watched Downtown 81 about Basquiat and the New York vernacular of the early 1980s. Also enjoyed Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move.
I am making my way through Kazuo Shinohara: Traversing the House and a City.  I admire his philosophy of architecture and how geometry and color exist through his eyes.  
Shin Okuda at his studio in LA

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