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milieu: thoughtful minimalism with Yumiko Sekine

milieu: thoughtful minimalism with Yumiko Sekine

Milieu is a series that explores the unique ways in which we breathe life into our homes. From coastal towns to city living, our homes are a celebration of small, simple moments. They’re a reflection of our lives. Our stories. Our milieu.

Our third feature in this series brings us to Tokyo, Japan to visit Yumiko Sekine – founder of Fog Linen and author of Simplicity at Home . Fog Linen is a Tokyo-based lifestyle brand known for its exquisite line of essential homewares and clothing designed for the everyday.

Yumiko’s home is a beautiful expression of minimalist living. Designed and built alongside her husband, their home was a genuine labour of love with every corner, stairwell, shelf and table representing a step toward creating the home of their dreams. As long-time fans of Yumiko’s work, we were thrilled to step inside and have a look around.

Please, introduce yourself!

My name is Yumiko Sekine, I’m the owner and designer of Fog Linen Work and miiThaaii. We sell linen, housewares and clothing for everyday use. We are based in Tokyo and have a shop in the Shimokitazawa area. I also live in Tokyo with my partner and our beautiful cat. Together with my partner, who is an architect, we designed our current home, Fog Linen office space, and storefront.

What inspired your love of linens and household design?

Memories from my childhood; My mother had a love of houseware, furniture and interiors. She loved to buy and collect dishes, cups, glasses, and her taste was constantly changing. This meant we experienced many different interior styles at home! My grandmother who lived next to us taught tea ceremonies out of her home. Her lifestyle was much more simple and minimal. I was deeply inspired by both my mother and grandmother.

Does the Fog Linen product line show up a lot in your own home?

Yes! I design things mostly for myself. I always ensure that Fog Linen items are pieces that I, too, would like to use or find useful in my own home.

What was the inspiration behind your book, Simplicity at Home ?

I have had many foreign friends come and stay at my house since I started my own business. Everyone would comment on how Tokyo was much different from what they’d expected it to be before arriving in Japan. I wanted to introduce my life in Tokyo as an example of how we live.

You’ve seen a lot of the world! How has travel inspired you in your life?

Traveling to Lithuania and India and working with the people I’ve met there have had a significant impact on me. Because of where we all come from, I find there can be different ways of thinking, looking at things and communicating ideas. It’s helped me learn to be flexible and understanding of cultural differences.

Where is one of your favourite places that you’ve visited?

The South of India. In many ways and for many reasons, it felt so far away from Tokyo. For instance my supplier, who was my first contact there and showed me around, didn’t speak English. He is a religious man and goes to temple to pray several times a day. This was totally different than the life I have at home, and it made me realize how far I’d come. I really enjoyed exploring a part of the world I hadn’t seen before.

Has Tokyo always been your home?

I grew up in a city called Morioka, located in the northern part of Japan. I moved to Tokyo for college when I was 18 and have lived there ever since.

What is the best part about Tokyo in April?

Cherry Blossoms! The whole city turns pink. It’s beautiful. We also have lots of rain in April so the plants and trees look really happy. I love walking under the cherry blossoms and try to walk as often as I can while they’re in bloom.

What was your favourite part about the process of designing your home alongside your husband?

That I learned so much about architecture! When we designed the building for Fog Linen, my husband took me to see many, many buildings to try and figure out what kind of building I would like for the business. At that point, I didn’t know much about architecture at all – what kind of colours we should use, what kind of windows or stairs to install, the list could go on. Visiting different spaces really helped me understand what I actually wanted.

For the home we just built, a big focus was on creating a space that would be eco-friendly. It was neat to learn how architecture is not just about creating something beautiful, but how to create something where beauty and function can intersect.

What does minimalism mean to you? Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

I actually had not thought about myself as a minimalist! Though I have had many friends come to my home to visit me and they always comment on my being a ‘minimalist’. For me, living with less just feels normal. It seems like I have fewer things at home than the average person, but I have everything I need. To me, living richly is a state of mind.

What does a typical day look like in your household?

I get up around 6am and take a short bath, have breakfast and do some exercise. I go to work around 830am and change up the display at the store. After 9am it’s back to the office for meetings and emails. I like to take a break at noon for lunch. After lunch, I spend some time planning new collections and catalogues – it’s my creative time. Later in the afternoon I start to get emails from my suppliers in Lithuania and India to discuss our new products.

I finish work around 7.30pm and head home for dinner with my husband. This is my favourite part of my day – we cook together, have a glass of wine or beer and just talk. Around 10pm I take my bath and go to bed.

Where in your home do you feel most creative?

Our entire home is our creative space. I enjoy finding projects to work on during the weekends – sometimes it’ll be gardening, sometimes sewing, cooking, changing displays of our shelves, and I love organizing the closet!

Which interior piece in your home has the most unique story?

We have a cart made of construction site scaffolding. I used some of them at my old warehouse to pack orders. When we moved our own warehouse to a fulfillment house, I offered my assistants and friends to take the carts home if they liked. None of them like them, so I kept them for myself. It is about 18 years ago that happened.

I don’t actually own many furniture pieces, but those carts are the ones I still love and use – you’ll see them throughout Simplicity at Home .

Who or what are your biggest design inspirations?

Everyday life is my biggest inspiration. I think of new designs from what I would need or like for myself. Each moment of every day helps me think about what Fog Linen should have for new collections.

You can see more of Yumiko’s Tokyo home in her book, Simplicity at Home , photographed by Masao Nishikawa and Nao Shimizu. In the book, Yumiko shares reflections on Japanese traditions, recipes and arrangements for thoughtful living.

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