Photographed by June Kim
My partner Philippe and I have become quite the regulars at a few favored spots in our Nishihara neighborhood: There’s the Italian-Japanese joint run by an ex-rock-band-member-turned-chef that we frequent after our weekly Pilates; the French bistro we meet friends at for dinner; the cafe we go to on weekends (and did a pop-up at last month); and of course, Bullpen – the interiors shop we visit when we’re in need of home inspiration. Bullpen stocks the kind of interior pieces and artisanal knick-knacks we lust for – from handmade ceramics in geometric shapes and earthy tones, wooden furniture in chic mid-century modern silhouettes, to statement-making light fixtures that can pull any space together. It’s all thoughtfully curated by its tastemaking founder, Daisuke Matsushima, who we caught up with last weekend for a golden-hour chat.
Ohayo, Daisuke! Tell us about yourself for DAMDAM.
I was born and raised in Tokyo. I moved to Portland when I was 15. It was a random choice, I didn’t know anyone there but we found a great school that accepted international students. I was there for 7 years and left when I was 21 to come back to Tokyo. I didn’t know what to do, I was studying film so I was working as a cameraman for a while. I was working whatever I could to make good money to travel.
I left Japan when I was 25 to travel the world for a year. I went to Central and South America and I was working in Brazil for a few months when the big earthquake happened in Tohoku, Japan in 2011. I came back to Japan from Brazil and drove to Tohoku to help out for six months.
I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I remember going to coffee shops in Portland to meet people. I went there every day for almost no reason and I made friends there. When I was in Tohoku, I remember meeting people from all over the world who just wanted to help out. And I felt that situation – we miss that in Japan. We don’t have a space where everybody can gather and share things and have a talk over a cup of coffee so I thought that’s what I want to do.
“Everything we have there, we can explain about it – like who makes it, where I bought it from. We didn’t want to have a single thing that wasn’t what we loved.”
I think you succeeded with Paddlers. How did you manage to create that energy and atmosphere?
When we created the space with my partner Take, we wanted the space to be like our room. Like when you have friends visiting your home, you want them to feel welcome, have a seat and a cup of coffee, listen to great music. We wanted to create a space that was true to what we love. Everything we have there, we can explain about it – who makes it, where I bought it from. We didn’t want to have a single thing that wasn’t what we loved. To me, running the coffee shop and running Bullpen is the same thing.
What is the concept of your furniture shop, Bullpen?
The shop name – Bullpen – is basically our concept. In baseball, a bullpen is the place where pitchers warm up before they go to the field. It’s where the pitcher and catcher try new things before the game. I wanted to make a furniture shop because I had a lot of good friends that made good stuff, craftsmen that produce awesome stuff. I wanted them to try new things and this shop is where they can do that.
For example, we made this sofa with this guy, Yusuke from Aichi Prefecture. I found him on Instagram and I thought his stuff looked really cool and I wanted to meet him. I DM’ed him and I gave him my ideas and I went to his studio and talked to him about it. I bought one of his wooden lamps and asked him to do a pop-up at Paddlers. And instead of just buying what he was making, I was suggesting things like adjusting the height of the piece, the type of wood that can be used.
“In baseball, a bullpen is the place where pitchers warm up before they go to the field. It’s where the pitcher and catcher try new things before the game. I wanted to make a furniture shop because I had a lot of good friends that made good stuff, craftsmen that produce awesome stuff. I wanted them to try new things and this shop is where they can do that.”
So it was more of a collaboration then?
Yeah, I would suggest about how things can look better.
I found this ceramic artist, Fanny Roos Waldermasson, from Sweden. I found her on SNS first but I really wanted to see her work in person and she had a little pop-up at an independent ceramic market in London so I flew to London to check it out. I really fell in love with her work. Her work is more diverse [than what is at Bullpen] but I wanted to get just the pieces with this certain shape.
You have a very precise aesthetic and it shows in your curation. How would you describe your style?
I like the word “imperfect.” I like everything that has a uniqueness to it. Lots of Japanese craftsmen try to make everything perfect. But I see interest in anything that has character or flaws, the beauty of imperfection.
I was surrounded by products and people in Portland that appreciate craftwork. Instead of spending money on mass-produced products, I would rather spend my money on my friends’ work or shop, or support artists. Because I’ve always had this idea of supporting artists and promoting their work to the world, I think I have a responsibility to talk to them, to know them and their story. I’m the middleman between them and the customers.
“Things like this, you don’t need it. But sometimes the things you don’t need can be the most valuable. To me, if I love it and if this object was in my house and made me feel relaxed – it’s kind of weird, this isn’t something you need in your life but you kind of do to make yourself happy.”
Do you think your shop concept is unique in Japan?
I think this is very unique. Most products I have here, you can either get directly from the craftsmen or us. We don’t really have anything that sells anywhere else. We know the craftsmen. This whole store is based on our relationships with them. This is the place we’re happy to share with you and the people who come here.
Most people might say that the products are expensive. But I sell values, not products. If people sympathize or identify with the products, then they buy the products. There are already so many products in Tokyo, you can click on a website and get them.
Things like [what we sell], you don’t need it. But sometimes the things you don’t need can be the most valuable. To me, if I love it and if this object was in my house and made me feel relaxed – it’s kind of weird, this isn’t something you need in your life but you kind of do to make yourself happy. What drives this shop is not the price, what I want to do with this shop is to promote what I believe in, the values that the craftsmen believe in and to share it with my neighbors and the people.