Interview with Satoshi and Marcia

There is a selection of questions and answers from a recent interview with Satoshi and Marcia. It may be of particular interest to those looking to start a creative business. Hope you enjoy the dialogue!

Interview with custom furniture maker in honolulu


Interviewer: How did you come to found Satoshi Yamauchi Woodworks?

Satoshi: My wife and I founded the company in 2012, shortly after we moved to Hawaii from Japan. I have always wanted to own my company building custom furniture. We lived in Tokyo at the time we decided to move to Hawaii. During the summer of 2011 we visited Hawaii on a vacation to see if it is a place we would like to live and make a living doing a custom furniture business. At the beginning, I suppose we were naive and we had this vision of having a large wood shop and some employees but after a couple of years of being in the business, we soon realized that we wanted to stay somewhat small and focus on top quality furniture made to the highest standard.

Marcia: Satoshi is an extremely skilled artisan and the only way to provide what we believed in, it was important that Satoshi builds everything. So it ended up being just Satoshi and myself, and we basically run the business together 50-50.


Interviewer: How did you figure out your roles?

Satoshi: Gradually, our roles split and figured out what each of our roles are. I handle production scheduling, engeneering, material selection, and furniture building. Marcia on the other hand, handles the business operation. Marcia and I are jointly responsible for the design process and major business decisions.


Interviewer: Can you tell me about what you do Marcia?

Marcia: I handle sales, proposals, contracts, supplier relations, material acquisitions, and bookkeeping. I handle correspondence, making sure everything is getting taken care of on the business end of it. I know that we have every material coming in the shop at the right time, everything is getting built, we have concrete plans detailing every aspects of the project. If I have any questions about the design, I go to Satoshi, and he answers them immediately, and that has been huge for us. I also deal with things like marketing too like updating our website and social media accounts.


Interviewer: How were your responsibilities different at first?

Satoshi: At the beginning, we did absolutely everything together. As in, meeting clients, presenting ideas & estimates, buying materials, looking for suitable suppliers, selecting wood, making furniture – EVERYTHING.

Marcia: This doing-together period became an important and crucial foundation of our business because Satoshi and I are fully aware of each other’s work. I, the business operator, understand the full scope of Satoshi’s building process. I know that Satoshi spends a lot of time understanding the drawings, planning the structure, creating a precise cut list. I know the material selection process. I understand the material preparation process (use of the jointer, planer, sliding saw). I get how Satoshi works in the shop and know why each process is important the building of our furniture.

On the other hand, Satoshi also understands what it involves to meet clients, respond to emails and calls, prepare design proposals, bookkeeping, and all the other day to day operations. He understands the important of understanding client requirements. He is the on same page as me when it comes to making sure our customer is happy. Satoshi understands that sometimes I have to go back to the drawing board.


Interviewer: What has been the most important aspects of running your business?

Satoshi: Perseverance and patience. Understanding that outcomes are not achieved over night. Not giving up and being persistent.
Marcia: Staying positive and giving it the bestest!


Interviewer: How does the bespoke furniture design & build process work? Can you tell me a little bit about the process and how much of the creative process involves the interaction with the customer?

Marcia: Customer involvement depends on the customer and the project. For the most part, our design starts with a general idea brought in by our customer. Often times, the starting point would be something like “I would like a wooden table with a pedestal base” and then we show them our past works, look at wood finishes, discuss their requirements, see their space (in person or in photos) and generally speaking we brainstorm together. This discussion helps Satoshi and I to put our spin on it and present a number of design options to the client. They would then select one of the options.


Interviewer: Let’s talk a little bit about locally sourced wood. How much of your wood furniture uses local wood?

Marcia: Every project is different so it is hard to say how much of our furniture pieces are made of local wood. However, we have seen a increasing tendency in the recent years for our customers to choose local wood such as monkeypod, koa and mango. And as you can see from our portfolio of past works, monkeypod is really the most popular salvaged wood in Hawaii that our customers have chosen to go with.

Interviewer: Why is monkeypod so popular?

Satoshi: First and foremost, it is because monkeypod is the most widely available local wood and it doesn’t come with a high price tag like koa wood. Other local wood such as milo or lychee are also out there but, these trees don’t grow large enough for furniture building. Monkeypod is an iconic tree for the state of Hawaii. It has enhances landscapes and provides shade. The monkeypod tree is indeed a reminder of our aina.


Interviewer: Are these local wood, salvaged?

Satoshi: All of our local wood are reclaimed wood, including our monkeypod, mango, koa slabs. Removed logs often just pile up and are sent to the trash. However, in recent years, local small milling businesses have been working hard to save those trees that would have otherwise been trashed.  It is an honor for us to give those trees a second life in the form of furniture that will be cherished for years to come.

Marcia: Sometimes trees are removed due to a hazard. Trees can be potentially dangerous because it could be growing too close to a property, or its health is deteriorating and branches can fall on people or homes. Other times trees are removed for property development.