Kumiko, the highly anticipated new West Loop bar by Noah and Cara Sandoval and Julia Momose, finally opened in Chicago this winter, and the five-course omakase menu and Japanese-inspired cocktails were worth the wait. But just as fascinating is the woodwork incorporated into the interior design, which informed the eatery’s name. Partner and creative director Momose, who grew up in Japan, was instrumental in bringing the one-of-a-kind design to Chicago. Here, she explains the meaning behind the intricate woodwork.
What is the history of the Japanese woodworking style, kumiko? In Japanese, kumiko is written 組子. The first character refers to assembly. The second character translates to “child.” In this case, it refers to a part or piece. Together, these characters depict the craft of joinery, a practice in which no hardware is used to hold the intricate pieces together. Research shows there are examples of kumiko found in ancient Japanese temples.
Why was it important for you to incorporate this technique into the design of the restaurant? I grew up with philosophies in Japan that are hard to translate into English. The kumiko panels in the space act as a visual representation of these ideals. This circles back to the reason we named the bar Kumiko: as an homage to the journey of making something the best it can be.
How were you able to bring the pieces to Chicago? We worked with Masa Kaneko of Crafits Design Studio in New York City, who has a direct connection to Tanihata Co. in Toyama, Japan. I drew elevations of what I was envisioning, and Kaneko configured the drawings into a professional document to send to Tanihata Co. The entire process took a few months, from completing the design to receiving the carefully packaged panels in the mail.