N.019: The Danish Studio Revitalising Craftsmanship Through Design

Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter
9 min readDec 27, 2019

Welcome to the archive of The Craftsman Newsletter. Sign up here to receive the latest issue, delivered to your inbox each month.

“Waste is something that we invented, and is something we need to dis-invent.” — Kresse Wesling
via Hole & Corner

You’ve probably figured out by now that I have a keen interest in Japan, and this issue has plenty of Japanese references.

It kicks-off with an interview I did in Copenhagen with Thomas Lykke and Anne-Marie Buemann of OEO Studio. Unbeknownst to me, I’ve been encountering — and admiring — their work for many years, until one day I found out that what connected all those spaces and products was the work of this Danish design studio. The article deals on how to make craftsmanship relevant in today’s society, and how making better products that age well, and upclying what are often considered as secondary materials (there’s nothing secondary in Nature), are also sustainable strategies. [In this version of the article you’ll find some of my photos from their work]

Let me know what you think by replying to this email or on twitter @gchicco.

I wish you a happy start of 2020! 💫


Pictured: Thomas Lykke & Anne-Marie Buemann, OEO Studio. Photo by Marie Louise Munkegaard.

The Danish Studio Revitalising Craftsmanship Through Design

Thomas Lykke’s grandfather was a carpenter. He transmitted to his grandson a passion for wood, the knowledge of how to use the tools, a genuine care for quality and, of course, the aesthetics of a well made object. Many years later, after training as a fashion designer in San Francisco and working as an Interiors Editor at Wallpaper* Magazine, Thomas would start OEO Studio together with Anne-Marie Buemann, and put those early lessons in craftsmanship to good use.

Denmark is well known as a design country. This legacy is visible in Danish homes, where it’s not uncommon for people to grow up surrounded by icons of design and architecture.

“[In Denmark] a bridge was thrown across the chasm that has long kept handicraftsmen and designers in industry apart. [Danish architects] embraced and understood both the hand and the machine and could and did employ both.” — Bernard Leach in the introduction to The Unknown Craftsman by Sōetsu Yanagi

Breathing New Life Into Danish Craftsmanship

From the very beginning, Thomas and Anne-Marie had a vision of revitalising things through design. Sometimes working behind the scenes redefining the strategy of industry leaders like the historic Georg Jensen, founded in 1904, others helping create startups like the environmentally minded brand Mater ( Mother in Danish, like Mother Earth), they are in a constant search of the “reason for being” of the space, object, or communication campaign they’re involved with.

Sustainability is one of OEO Studio’s main traits, and it goes well beyond just being green. For Mater, it’s about producing furniture, lighting, and accessories supporting Scandinavian craft traditions, and a philosophy centred on caring instead of just taking.

“What we do is always about pushing the boundaries. So it doesn’t become always about comfort or making money, but it should be about making good things. Making something that is meaningful, something that is good for the community or good for the craftsman, good for their families, good for society. Sometimes it has a bigger dose, sometimes it’s a smaller dose, but there is always that OEO signature.” — Thomas Lykke

The Danish craftsmanship scene has shrunk dramatically due to the blind obsession with turnover and profit, which caused the outsourcing of manufacturing. However the trend is shifting and craftsmanship is becoming popular again. Seven years ago Thomas and Anne-Marie started working with local furniture firm Brdr. Krüger (Krueger Brothers), which has been around since 1886 and is now run by the fifth generation. They’ve always been an OEM manufacturer producing for others, so they never really had a brand. OEO formalised a new strategy and designed some pieces rooted on a fresh perspective on craftsmanship which has put Brdr. Krüger on the map within Denmark and abroad, and while doing so earned several Best Furniture Designs at the Danish Design Awards.

“When we started working with [Brdr. Krüger] they were 7 people: mom and dad, sister and brother, and three employees. Now they’re fifty people, and they’ve become a magnet for craftsmen from all over Denmark that want to come and work with them.”

L: Cabinet of Love by OEO Studio, Garde Hvalsøe, Bergmann Audio, Gato Audio and Dahlman 1807 for Wallpaper* Handmade X in Milan, April 2019. // R: A private dining room at restaurant INUA in Tokyo, featuring the signature JARI chair co-designed with Brdr. Krüger, November 2018. All photos by Gianfranco Chicco.

Big in Japan

OEO Studio’s reach goes well beyond Scandinavia. They have done many projects in Japan, where they’re considered experts and even protectors of the local culture. Their first Japanese client was Masataka Hosoo, 12th generation of a Kyoto-based kimono textile maker.

The use of kimono has had an abrupt decline in the last fifty years. Little by little, OEO defined a strategy anchored in the alternative use of these precious textiles in interior and fashion design, developing a collection that maintained a clear sense of Hosoo’s 1,200 year old heritage while being more global in reach. The increase in popularity abroad made it also more relevant at home to a younger generation that until then hadn’t find it interesting at all.

“Working with Masataka is like being his right hand, helping him achieve his vision. We don’t feel we have a client relationship. We’re friends and we work for the same goal. That is actually very important for us.”

Another project they are very proud of is Japan Handmade, a joint collaboration of six crafts companies from Kyoto to make modern objects steeped in traditional techniques for an international market. In this case, it’s not about the design but its effect: what it does to these families with long traditions, to other craftsmen, and to society. It’s been like throwing a stone in the water and watching the rings spread out. Makers all over Japan have heard about how these young guys in Kyoto are doing something different and it’s working.

Projects life Japan Handmade generate unexpected ramifications too. The set of tea and coffee pots which OEO designed with 6th generation tea caddy maker Kaikado lead to the launch of the Kaikado Café in Kyoto a few years later, opening a new path for their craft to thrive.

L: The Japan Handmade team at the Salone del Mobile / Design Week in Milan, April 2013. // C: Ki-Oke Stool in collaboration with Nakagawa Mokkougei, part of Japan Handmade, April 2013. // R: Kaikado Café in Kyoto, November 2018. All photos byGianfranco Chicco.

Materials & Durability

When I ask Thomas about the relationship between craftsmanship and elitism, he reflects on how products used to be made to last a long time, for about three generations, and people would save up to buy a certain piece of furniture. They knew they could later give it to their sons and daughters. That’s also a sustainable way of thinking, and it’s why there were all these classics in most Danish homes.

Using the right materials also guarantees that the objects will develop a beautiful patina through the wear and tear of everyday use. In contrast, if you make a floor out of plastic, it’s probably going to be there for fifty years but it won’t get more beautiful nor more valuable.

“What excites us is when we see that someone has put some energy and thought into making something that’s made to last, that’s not just about making fast money, or making a building that’s not going to be there in 10 years time. The human touch. Places where you feel welcome.”

Right now OEO is exploring how to upcycle
B-materials and waste, like shorter woodcuts considered less valuable by the industry, using as little effort as possible to keep the prices down.

Going Beyond Design

Thomas shares how their efforts have an urge to find meaning and relevance through something that is bigger than just design.

“We have a shelf where we put our dreams and we go and get them out from time to time. There’s that big thing that I don’t know what it is yet, that will give meaning to everything we do. Maybe it’s finding how to merge craftsmanship and technology, and creating value not for just a few but for society at large.”

OEO Studio

(Pictured: Thomas Lykke & Anne-Marie Buemann, OEO Studio. Photo by Marie Louise Munkegaard.)

Photo: courtesy of Hamidashimono

Hamidashimono: Chopstick Making Kit

This product comes as a side project from Jan Chipchase, a modern day explorer, researcher, designer, photographer, and writer. As Jan put it to me, “It’s a story about where things comes from, reflecting on the cycle of consumption, and learning the craft of making an everyday object.”

Hamidashimono is a kit to make your own wooden chopsticks, like the ones you’d find in a Japanese izakaya (pub), by upcycling leftover cypress wood from a family-owned chopstick factory. Accompanied by a beautiful indigo dyed tenugui cloth, and a brass Higonokami whittling knife, there’s enough wood to make twenty-five pairs of chopsticks.

Presented as an ideal pre-dinner activity to stimulate conversation, it takes about fifteen minutes to shave the wood into a decent pair of chopsticks (although it takes months of practice to become a master).


Photo: courtesy of International KOGEI Award in Toyama.

Open Call For Craftspeople: International Kogei Award in Toyama

Thus will be of interest to many readers of the newsletter:

Japan’s Toyama Prefecture has launched the International Kogei Award, an exciting opportunity for makers to not only win monetary awards (about £28,000 in awards), but also have their work exhibited in Japan, and be invited to collaborate with local artists, craftspeople, and designers.

Entry is free with applications closing on 27 January 2020.

One of the main objectives is to “reconsider the fixed concept of traditional crafts once from an unbiased perspective, capturing the global trends in crafts world that are becoming borderless and cross-disciplinary more and more, and create international networks and collaboration opportunities, which will enable us to draw a future vision of crafts.”

Techniques and materials eligible to apply are: lacquerware, metalwork, casting, woodwork, handmade washi paper, ceramics, glass, leather, dyeing and weaving or combinations thereof.

For details and to apply:




Sign up here to receive the latest issue, delivered to your inbox each month.

Originally published at https://mailchi.mp.



Gianfranco Chicco
The Craftman Newsletter

Curator of The Craftsman Newsletter. Conference director for hire, digital-physical experiences, marketing & storytelling. Japanophile. ✌