When Infiniti started work on the 2019 QX Inspiration concept, designers prioritized the creation of a stunning handcrafted, lounge-like cabin. To this end, Infiniti partnered with world-famous furniture maker, Tendo Co., to help shape a hospitable interior rich in natural detail and perfect for relaxation.
Founded in 1940 in Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture, Tendo is one of Japan’s most respected, well-established furniture producers. Famed for its artisan woodworkers, craftspeople in Yamagata Prefecture have adopted a mentality that combines curiosity, technique and patience.
Today, Tendo works alongside Japanese architects and designers to create furniture with limitless appeal. Such is the timeless beauty and quality of its products, owners have been known to pass Tendo furniture on to the next generation.
Because of this heritage and renown, Infiniti called upon the skill and expertise of Tendo’s craftspeople to help develop the beautiful interior of the QX Inspiration concept.
Mie Tanaka, Color Design Assistant Manager at Infiniti Motor Company, comments: “Our first ideas and sketches for the interior were founded in this notion of creating a space that was more akin to a lounge or living space. We took advantage of the spacious layout enabled by the electric powertrain, and created a furniture-like expression for every element of the interior. At the same time, we wanted to explore a Japanese sense of beauty, tying the car to our cultural roots.
“We approached Tendo with this, and, while we had our own idea about how the QX Inspiration's 'furniture' could look, Tendo's many decades of experience in wood-working and design helped us to create something really special. The result is a beautiful, relaxing space that is rich in Japanese craftsmanship and materials. It is unlike anything we have been able to produce before.”
Infiniti designers were clear from the outset that the interior of the QX Inspiration concept should feature organic materials and subdued colors, in homage to Japan’s unique appreciation of nature and craftmanship. Tendo and Infiniti decided upon the use of ‘sugi’, a cedar tree synonymous with Japan, for the sense of warmth attributed to its soft light grain. The sugi in the car was grown in Yamagata Prefecture.
Tendo’s artisans produced the striking woodwork found throughout the concept’s cabin, and even created a matching sugi door panels, using traditional production methods, and inspired by modern Japanese interior design trends.
Adhering to a typically Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, the notion of finding beauty in imperfections, Infiniti and Tendo deliberately left the knot and grain of the cedar wood in place. Expressing the strength and life of the raw material at its heart, the QX Inspiration concept offers an experience unlike vehicles from many other car makers, embracing what nature has created, rather than planing, carving and polishing out any natural imperfection.
The result is an exquisite cabin replete with natural serenity, representing Infiniti’s approach to developing human-centric, lounge-like interiors for its next generation of cars.
Design Q&A with Akihiro Konno, Deputy General Manager, and Sakae Igarashi, Assistant Manager, both based in the manufacturing department at Tendo Co.
Why did you choose Japanese cedar wood for the interior of the QX Inspiration?
We investigated several natural materials synonymous with Japan and the Japanese landscape. Cedar wood, or sugi, is unique to Japan and its grain and color creates a sense of warmth unlike anything else. We felt that this material reflects the interior’s notion of ’omotenashi’ hospitality – that of welcoming guests into the home. Although sugi is a very delicate and fragile material, it can become stronger, richer and more beautiful when treated appropriately.
How did you deal with the cedar’s fragility?
We had to consider this throughout the crafting process. Simply applying paint or lacquer directly with a paintbrush can cause irreparable damage. Instead we took inspiration from nature by envisaging the first snow of the season, and the way that it covers the ground silently, with minimal impact. We imitated snow covering the wood panel by gently working on the surfaces, bit by bit.
How did you line up the wood grain and decide on the color?
This was an extremely sensitive process, as the grain is unique to each piece of cedar wood. We spent a great deal of time lining up panels and making sure that the grain was visibly aligned. When deciding on the wood’s final color, we continually referred to Infiniti’s original aim: to create a warm and welcoming interior that demonstrates Japanese omotenashi hospitality.
Yamagata Prefecture is famed in Japan for its woodworking skills. Did you draw on any traditional craft techniques?
INFINITI’s designers asked us to express the life of the wood. To achieve this, we used a traditional method that we have never tried before on our furniture, called ‘uzukuri’. Uzukuri is the art of gently brushing and scrubbing wood to give it texture and bring out the grain, using the vitality of nature as our inspiration. This is a technique that has been honed and perfected over many decades by craftsmen across Yamagata and it seemed the most appropriate way to treat the wood.
What are your thoughts on the finished product?
Our team values the Japanese notion of ‘monozukuri’ – an appreciation of making things – so we have handcrafted each part of the INFINITI QX Inspiration’s interior with care. We are proud with what we have created and achieved with INFINITI. It is always a pleasure to work with fellow designers who can imagine beautiful things and create wonderful features. It has been an honor to work on this project.