It all started with a serendipitous Sunday drive. Ichiro Yamamoto, Japanese entrepreneur and founder of THE GENERAL INC., was in California on a business trip when he fell in love with an all-black building he passed on the busy streets of the Orange County town of Costa Mesa. Months later, he met TOWNES founder Frank Delgadillo at a trade show in Salt Lake City and when someone mentioned Delgadillo’s all ebony company headquarters, Yamamoto knew that drive had led him to a fortuitous new connection. The two developed an organic bond, driven by their similar creative aesthetic and appreciation for brands and products that were functional and inspiring in the same breath. The chance encounter led to numerous collaborative discussions that led to the development and debut of COLONY 2139, a lifestyle brand that blends the progressive creativity of both visionaries and their independent influences into a line of products for the man, woman and the home. Here, the two men come together to share the COLONY 2139 story, past, present and future.
What is the inspiration behind COLONY 2139?
Y: I have been thinking about this project for quite some time and I have always wanted to do a store like COLONY. I got the inspiration from hotel design, supermarkets and restaurants all over the world. American people have a good sense of design and we as Japanese make quality products so I thought it would be a perfect fit to bring the two together.
F: Inspiration is being able to sell a price point item that is simple, yet has a strong design direction at the same time and influences all aspects of modern-day living – home goods, clothing and apothecary. -Retail space in general in a mass-market environment is typically poorly designed. We wanted to create a project together that had a strong aesthetic and design direction and a thoughtfully curated collection of essentials and inspirational objects for all facets of modern-day life.
You both have a love for black houses. When did this love begin?
Y: I have liked black for more than 10 years but I can’t remember where this love first started. I built myself a black house about two years ago and the aesthetic really resonates with me in my daily life at home and on the go. It’s classic yet completely unexpected at the same time.
F: I have always had a vision for a black retail concept. I have had a black house and a black office and the inspiration dates back from my first trips to Japan in the late 90’s. The love also came from the Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori and the ancient technique of Shou-sugi-ban – the unconventional concept of using charred wood in design.
You have similar aesthetics such as Mid Century furniture, simple design, black, old cars- Do you think this relates to COLONY 2139 in any way?
F: Definitely. We both appreciate furniture design and inspiration; not only Japanese design, but Mid-Century American design, especially when mixed in with early Century American design like 1910 Craftsman homes.
Why is Function in design important to you?
Y: People won’t buy a product for the design only. The product needs to have functionality and design.
F: Watching my young daughter utilize the furniture that I have is intriguing; it’s not just a showcase, it’s functional and can be used for everyday life. I like to be able to utilize design – not just having it there for show – there needs to be functionality to it as well.
This has a very Bauhaus School of thought behind it, are you both inspired by that teaching at all?
Y: Yes, I am inspired by that thought but I am more inspired by Case Study houses in California. It’s like mixing California culture with the Bauhaus school of thought.
F: Yes for sure. Clutter is noise in my opinion. The eye and the mind focus best when they are clear and I think that approach translates to all facets of life – aesthetics, function, and communication. Less is more and I believe in the power of simplicity.
You both live in very different parts of the world, yet are inspired by such similar things. Can you comment on that as business partners and as friends?
Y: We both like similar things, but honestly my taste is not as good as Frank’s. He knows what is real but I don’t yet. I am still learning from the things he likes and I am studying more haha…
F: It goes back to me having a deep passion for the Japanese culture and lifestyle as well as the way they dive into trend and design. I think it is the opposite for Yamamoto with a passion for American culture. We are meeting at the crossroads where we naturally appreciate what each other has to offer and where we come from.
Yamamoto – you are heavily inspired by California culture. What are some of your key favorite things about California and when did this admiration begin?
Y: The first time I came to CA was 25 years ago. I went to Griffith Observatory, looked at the night view and thought it was so impressive. I am very inspired by the beach culture (less of the surf beach culture) and the one-of-a-kind architecture that can only be influenced by the California lifestyle.
Frank – how has the Japanese culture influenced you?
F: The cleanliness, their passion for design, passion for perfection, their passion for brands – Japanese culture loves the story of brands and are very brand-oriented.
Architecture is also a huge part of both of your lives, can you tell me a few architects you admire and why you appreciate their design?
Y: My favorite is Schindler, as I built my house in his design likeness. Simply, I like the length and breadth structure as we (Japanese) call “Kairou (Coister)”.
F: Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori and the ancient technique of Shou-sugi-ban -the concept of charring wood – a rough yet minimal approach in design.
How did you come up with the name COLONY 2139?
Y: The store concept is “having a better lifestyle for Japanese people”. I first had the idea of naming the project “THE HOUSE” but Frank and his creative team at Townes came up with “COLONY” as this word has a broader meaning (bigger project).
F: COLONY 2139 is a space in which people live and create lifestyles – that is what we are envisioning. A modern home, work and life ethos that reflects the evolving connection between home and community, personal and professional, and aesthetics and accessibility.
What is your vision for COLONY 2139 and what do you hope the buyer takes away when becoming a part of the culture?
Y: COLONY 2139 is about simplicity and function. We want our customers to appreciate the brand’s minimal style and tone but to also find use for our products in their day-to-day life. We want our pieces to stand the test of time from a design point of view and a functionality point of view.
F: The vision is simple, yet thoughtful design at a reasonable price. We think there is a gap in the marketplace for that right now and COLONY 2139 is here to fill that gap like no other brand has.
Interview by Gloria Noto
Photographed by TOWNES