Habitat Antique in Osaka, Japan. More info and images further on.

Habitat Office in Osaka. Facet Studio installed the rice paper screens to help deal with privacy issues and “not a very nice view”.

Water Moon in Sydney’s Potts Point. More info and  images further on.

Studio SPEC office interior. More info and images further on.


I know, I know – these interviews are definitely getting less and less frequent. What can I do – people are busy, and I’ve dropped the ball on chasing things up a little. Forgive me. But I still have quite a few very exciting interviews in the pipelines. Promise.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to the work of Sydney based architects Yoshi Kashiwagi and Olivia Shih of  Facet Studio. Hooray! I am super excited about this interview as it is always extra special being able to talk to/ about people you know. I met Olivia and Yoshi a few years ago during the time when we all worked at one of Sydney’s leading design and architecture firms. In fact, Olivia and I worked together on a great little project, which till this day remains as one of my favourites. Also during this time, Yoshi and Olivia developed a close partnership and, soon after they left that firm, Facet Studio was born. In less than two years of operation, they have completed a number of projects both in Australia and in Japan, and two of their projects were shortlisted for IDEA10 Design Awards. Not a bad little effort, right? My thoughts exactly.

Congratulations Yoshi and Olivia on all your achievements so far. I have no doubt that we will be seeing more of your fantastic work in the years to come. Also a huge thank you to Olivia for coordinating this interview while she was travelling to Taiwan, and Yoshi was in New York. Such is the life of jet-setting architects.

x dana


Olivia and Yoshi of Facet Studio. Hey, nice KeepCup Yoshi!

Hello Olivia and Yoshi, welcome to yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat.  Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – when did you first decide you wanted to become architects and how did you go about establishing your practice?

Y: My father is an architect, and I grew up in a family surrounded by architecture books and drawings.  On top of that, I saw my father always designing architecture in his study, and I could see that from behind his back. The way he enjoyed his profession made me interested in what he was doing at that time. When I visited the exhibition of Renzo Piano in Tokyo during my master degree, I came cross the timber model of the museum in New Caledonia. I still remember the moment that the lighting went through my entire body and after that I decided to be an architect.

O: I never really thought about another profession I suppose.  My father was in construction and my whole family was always interested in buildings – we had fun checking out properties and I have fond memories of us gathering around floor plans when I was young.  I was and still am very into art and design, and architecture was a natural path for me. To be entirely honest after working for 5-6 years in few firms I was a little disoriented and contemplated other career options.  But I realized that the honesty in architecture is something unusually beautiful; since then I returned to architecture full-heartedly.

While me and Yoshi were working at an established architecture firm, the owner of a Thai restaurant, where we often had lunch, approached us for the restaurant’s renovation work.  Although it was a project of low budget and tight timeframe, the joy of bringing to life what was drawn on paper has reassured us that, this “reality” is how architecture should be.

‘Phamish’ Vietnamese Restaurant in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. The brief called for a new identity using the elements of “chrysanthemum” and “gold”. Facet Studio designed a series of offset laser-cut backlit partitions and ceiling light-boxes with a chrysanthemum pattern. Photography by Katherine Lu.

With the expectation and readiness for 6 months project-less downtime, we officially started Facet Studio in 2009 January.  Luckily, that downtime never happened; we have been extremely busy and never had downtime as such. After we finished working on the Thai restaurant, Phamish next door approached us to work on their fitout because they saw and liked what we did, and how we took care of the client.  Similarly we had a lot of referred work through clients we worked for, builders we worked with, and friends who trusted our passion….. Somehow I think “passion” is a very important word to descrbe our work attitude and value.  “Passion” is highly contageous, and people we associated with respond to our passion positively.  “Passion” is the fuel for professionalism, dedication, and perseverence.  “Passion” keeps our spirit high.  “Curiosity” is another keyword – it is the driving force behind our journey to create something we have never seen or experienced.

The making of the light-box prototypes for Phamish. That’s Olivia getting down and dirty with a stanley knife.

How do you characterize your design approach and your aesthetic? What is fundamental to your design practice – your philosophy and your process?

When we started Facet Studio, we set out to do “meaningful design” – we believe when we have meanings behind our design, there is beauty in what we do.  To us every project has the potential to be polished into a gem by putting in more thoughts in the design process, and that is where the name Facet Studio came from.

With Water Moon, it is where the old Roys Famous Café was for like 20 years, and has an important role in the streetscape of Potts Point.  The client had not a strong request in design style but he specifically asked us to communicate, even to people just walking by, that Water Moon is a place to enjoy both Japanese sake and cuisine. So the project started from how to display sake bottles, and how we could utilize this visual images we would subsequently create to effectively establish a character for this restaurant.

There we came up with the idea of having a lightbox in the middle of the restaurant as the “moon” in the night sky. We spent quite some time researching various materials which would enable us to create this lightbox; it was a fine balance between the lighting effect, the sheer dimension of the lightbox, and cost. Whilst “sun” associates with “light”, “moon” is more associated with “shadows”; so we decided to play on the colourfulness of the sake bottles, and cast shadows from within the lightbox.  We then spent hours experimenting on the effects of projecting colourful shadows of the backlit sake bottles on the material.  We also collaborated with structure engineer to design the framework of the lightbox to minimise visible structure and shadow it casts.

Although the deceivingly simple lightbox does not reveal the structure behind, and the history in its development, we believe our effort shows through – the lightbox remains the topic of the restaurant patrons, and the most recognizable feature of the restaurant.

We think as an example this shows how we always spend incredible amount of energy on a simple idea, enrich and strengthen it, until it becomes a beautiful solution to our question.

Water Moon Restaurant. Facet Studio inserted a spectacular light-box in the centre of the space which became a canvas for projection of colourful shadows from backlit sake bottles. Genius. Photography by Katherine Lu.

How do you go about establishing a concept and an overall direction/ look & feel for your projects? Do you have a certain process that you always follow? 

Architecture is a very complicated design discipline which involves a lot of functional and physical dimensions on top of aesthetics, it is critical that we find the solution to answer all the requirements in a balanced manner.  We intend not to impose a design “style” as such onto our clients – we believe the style comes through in the way we approach challenges in design process, and the aesthetic is the physical expressions of the architectural meanings behind our decisions.

With M House in Japan (due to complete in April 2011), the building form is an expression of the client family’s “vision” – how the family wants to grow, and how his family value will be shaped by the time spent in the house.  We used the roof as an architectural symbol of the somehow kitsch expression  “everyone lives under the big roof”, hoping to encourage an open, generous family lifestyle.  So we put in a lot of effort to express the roof as a distinguished element, which directly related to how we decided on structural system, how natural light will enter the building, how spatial volume will be experienced.  And in order to make doubly sure of all the design decisions, we study every design aspect with perspectives, models of various scales, and even 1:1 prototypes.

We don’t have a set way to design, but there are times we have to let our right brain take over and be creative for the particular design tasks we face, but we then need to let our left brain assess these creative ideas with logic: feasibility, methodology, and the “meaning” of these design decisions. Throughout the project we constantly switch between creativity and logic, to progressively advance our ideas.  This is also the beauty of having 2 people designing (which can be painful a lot of the time….), so one person can always be a little more objective than the other.

M House interior perspective (above) and large scale model study of natural light condition and junction details (below). M house is currently under construction in Niigata, Japan. Scheduled for completion in April 2011.

Who or what are some of your influences?  What other designers, artists, creatives or entrepreneurs do you admire? 

We are influenced by a lot of architects in different aspects: Renzo Piano with how he plans and organizes his firm, Takaharu + Yui Tetsuka for how they simplifies and visualizes architectural philosophy, Geoffrey Bawa for his integration of nature and architecture, Koichi Kashiwagi (Yoshi’s father) for architect’s discipline…. We take clues from the materials themselves too.

How do you go about networking and marketing yourself both online and off-line?  Do you make a point of actively seeking out publications you would like to be featured in etc? 

We have not been really active in terms of promoting ourselves, but we do seek to be published in medias we like (such as Yellowtrace!).

We have had some exposure with Water Moon after winning the Intergrain Timber Vision Awards 2010, and overseas interest on Habitat Antique in Osaka after it was published on dezeen.  Otherwise people somehow find and contact us.

Retail Fitout for Habitat Antique in Osaka, Japan. Facet Studio used a palette of cedarwood, rice paper and linen fabric for the project. Photography by Tomohiro Sakashita.

What advice would you give to emerging designers who want to follow your path?  What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice? 


Biggest lesson I have learnt is how to deal with disappointment so not to be disheartened, and how not to lose sight of the big picture in both exciting and difficult moments.

What are you most proud of professionally – your favourite project or a turning point in your career? 

Humans require shelter to sustain their lives.  If we only go for the bear minimum, I guess we can be satisfied with roof and walls – but we also believe it becomes something pale for accommodating humans.  We work to create spaces of richness, and we feel the joy when we see the smiles on clients’ faces after they see the completed spaces.

The client for M House is a friend for over 10 years.  Yoshi was asked to design his house back when they were still students.  We were so touched by him keeping his promise and came to us after 10 years, and we tried our best to respond to him by designing a house which will stay alive in the memory of him, and his family, for a lifetime.  M house is a project which gives us an opportunity to deeply contemplate on an architecture which, rather than being a temporary experience, will grow together with time over decades.


Studio SPEC – Commercial Fitout for Graphic Designer Studio + School / Beauty Consultation Room. Photography by Katherine Lu.

What’s next – can you share with us your vision and some of your goals? 

Recently we have been exploring the theme of “ambiguous boundary” – it exists between various matters, such as people / people, object / object, people / object, inside / outside, building / nature.  We would like to use the power of design, to gently continue this soft interface. If we can surround people with the “ambiguous boundaries”, wouldn’t we be creating spaces which are more compassionate for people.

Furthermore, at the space between the “ambiguous boundaries”, it is filled with hints to enrich the lives of us human beings.  Our next aim is to find out more about this “ambiguous boundary”.

We have been putting more effort into communicating our thoughts with people lately – one of the examples would be our exhibition at UNSW back in November.  If there is chance we would like to put together an exhibition at a public space like an art gallery or museum.

Tea Room situated behind a home in a residential area in Osaka, Japan. Photography by Tomohiro Sakashita.

Lets Get Personal. 

What are the qualities you most like about yourself?

Y:  focus in big picture and criticize myself.

O:  think outside the square, passionate, generous 

Apart from your work. What other interests or hobbies do you have? 

Y:  playing tennis, skiing, collecting antiques and art works, drinking wines and seeing the world.

O:  exercise, camping, travel, art; and architecture (I wouldn’t call it work…) 

What is your most treasured belonging?

Y:  2 eyes to see the world in depth, brain to think holistically and a good partner and teams.

O:  family, friends, health, and a good partner for all my adventures


Facet Studio’s workspace.

What’s the one thing other people may not know about you? 

Y:  I can cry watching movies in the plain. I could be very emotional.

O:  I am hopeless with computer hardware, I couldn’t tell the difference between a firewire and a cat-5 connector (I had to google it last time when setting up my computer). 

Its not very cool, but I really like… 

Y:  storing Japanese food (I always come back from Japan with 2 cardboard boxes full of Japanese food).

O: Japanese manga (I learnt most of my Japanese from reading manga…) 

In ten years I ‘d like to be… 

Y:  still an architect.

O:  being an architect is without question.  On top of that I’d like to have more time for the important people in my life.


Railway Parade sketch perspective – commercial building in Sydney, starting construction 2011.

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

10 Responses

  1. linda from OEKE

    It’s true, these articles must take ages for you to organise/complete – but when I saw your title ‘interview’ this morning I thought yipee. LOVE your interviews.

    What a great, creative duo to read about. Thanks Dana.

  2. food sponge

    Oh so inspirational!
    I have just been staring at the Habitat Antique shelving photo for ages – so simple & effective.
    The Japanese tea room is exquisite.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. chi hair dryer

    Kudos for posting such a useful blog. Your blog isn’t only informative but also extremely artistic too. There normally are very couple of individuals who can write not so simple articles that creatively. Keep up the good writing !!


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