The Japanese have an uncanny ability to make the difficult look easy. Furniture design – a discipline that calls for a mastery of both form and function – is the perfect canvas for this skill. You don’t have to convince Michael Grassi. In October last year the former property developer joined forces with architect Tomek Archer and Henry Gresson to launch Nomi, an online furniture retailer that swaps the logistical pressures of the DIY movement for the elegance and simplicity at the heart of Japanese joinery.
“The idea came to me when I couldn’t find a particular desk,” says Grassi. “It was pretty standard but I just wanted to have my own elements. I took my design to a manufacturer and they agreed to produce it, but because it was a one-off, it was going to be costly. Then it dawned on me that I probably wasn’t the only one having this problem – architects and designers were probably having it all the time.”
He was onto something. Enlisting the help of Archer – a long-time friend who heads up multidisciplinary design firm Tomahawk Studios – Grassi dreamt up the kind of furniture business that allowed customers to create sleek, personalised furniture staples with a wallet-friendly price tag and, thanks to the equalising power of the internet, went about making it a reality.
“Tomek is one of the most talented people I know and he’s got a great ability to design beautiful pieces,” Grassi explains. “We thought about how we could allow users to customise the pieces and manufacture the framework. Then Henry, our third partner, came on board and brought with him his understanding of technology and the online space. That was the start of the journey.”
Two years on, it seems they’ve succeeded. Nomi’s website makes it easy for users to customise and purchase everything from svelte coffee tables, stylish pegboards and lightweight chairs – a feature that invites users to blend the edicts of good design with personal flair. The trio were also serious about dismissing IKEA-type dramas involving instruction sheets and allen keys – Nomi pieces, which are made from American Oak and manufactured in Melbourne, are also a lesson in seamless assembly.
“I gave Tomek the hardest design brief you could give someone – design a furniture range you can customise, flat-pack and produce at an affordable price point,” Grassi laughs. “We prototyped countless pieces in the process but he was up for the challenge and had the expertise to bring it to life.
Grassi believes that Nomi’s namesake – a humble Japanese chisel – is a powerful symbol of the company’s design ethos at work.
“It reflects the relationship between the modular nature of our products and the joinery principles that allow the pieces to slot together.”