Ken Tomita

To make the legs of his tables black, furniture designer Ken Tomita uses sumi, Japanese calligraphy ink. He got the idea while studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. “We were given an assignment to come up with 10  different ways of making wood black,” he says. “I used the ink for one of them. I discovered that it has the right amount of gloss, and it’s a deep black. It’s like painting a void.”

   Tomita was born in Japan, but moved to Oregon as a child and received a degree in East Asian Studies with a concentration in Art History from the University of Oregon. He initially planned on becoming an architect, but a summer internship with a furnituremaker sent his career in another direction, and he started his own furniture design studio. “With furniture, I get to be involved in the whole process,” he says. “I think that’s an important part of design—knowing how something comes together from start to finish.”

   The majority of his Asian-inspired pieces are custom-made from bamboo plywood and then highlighted with black. “I think of my pieces as sculptures,” he says. “I design each piece specifically for the area in which the client plans to use it, so I always visit the site before I begin.”

  He makes the furniture in the studios of Shop People and often adjusts the design as he works using both computer and cardboard models. “I like to play around with models in physical form,” he says. “When I’m handling the models and the material, I’ll often discover things that can improve the design.

This 33-inch hostess table (left) starts at $2,400, depending on customization.

Contact Ken Tomita at 503-975-0053 or via his