Namu Home Goods was inspired in part by the 100-year-old oak tree in founder Diana Ryu's backyard. "I thought to myself, this tree has seen hundreds of winters and yet, innately knows spring will bloom. I wanted to be more like this tree and weather my personal winter, stay steadfast in the midst of change, and bloom once again." Finding and celebrating the beauty of the natural world—and in ourselves—drives the Los Angeles-based brand. Diana partners with South Korean-based woodworkers who handcraft gallery-quality heritage goods meant to be passed down for generations. Namu translates as "tree" in Korean, and wood was chosen as the medium for the brand precisely because it features naturally occurring cracks, knots, discolorations, and imperfections that the artisans mold to create stunningly beautiful works. Diana contends that valuing what the natural world gives us and sharing in that beauty and craftsmanship is a unifying force, an ethos that aligns with our brand's mission. That is why we are so excited to present our Namu Home Goods capsule and our latest artisan feature with Diana. We talk more about her inspiration, why wood is the ideal medium for the artisans, and how important it is to relish the beauty in imperfection with this line of limited-edition and one-of-kind offerings. Read on for more.
You founded Namu Home Goods amid the pandemic. Was there a catalyst or specific moment you knew you needed to start a gallery-quality woodwork business?
My husband is an artist and an actor and has always worked from home, in a studio, or on a set. Conversely, I had always worked a corporate job. When I started to work from home, I saw the way Joe had immense agency over his life. He woke up when he wanted to, ran errands, and worked when he wanted. I had never seen this kind of life up close, and it was a clarifying moment for me. I was let go from my job in December 2020 and knew it was a gift. During this time, I spent a lot of time with the 100-year-old oak tree in our backyard. I thought to myself, this tree has seen hundreds of winters and yet, innately knows spring will bloom. I wanted to be more like this tree and weather my personal winter, stay steadfast in the midst of change, and bloom once again. It was important for me to share this philosophy and Namu Home Goods became a vehicle to do that.
Similarly, how important is it to you to source from South Korea and work exclusively with Korean artisans?
A missionary named Norbert Weber went to Korea in 1911 and observed that the Korean people entered into nature instead of taking over nature. Nature is valued deeply, and the woodwork is a fantastic example. The woodwork Namu Home Goods curates highlights what the natural world offers us instead of trying to perfect it. That means there are naturally occurring cracks, knots, and discoloration and our artists work with what the tree has given them. Trees are much thinner in Korea than in the states (it's a much smaller country geographically), which means wood is a precious medium and is treated as such. The final product is considered, refined, and truly a work of art. One of our woodworkers likens cutting a tree to cutting into his own flesh. This makes their work precious and valuable.
You've often spoken about seeing these pieces as artwork in a sense—gallery-quality and able to be passed down for generations. Why is this so central to your mission?
The art represents a core ethos of finding value in "imperfection." Many of the cracks and holes and discoloration on our woodwork comes from the life of the tree. Maybe a particularly wet monsoon summer led to a fungal infection or insects that burrowed into the wood to get their fill. It must have been quite traumatic to the tree, yet our artists find beauty in this trauma. Aren't we tired of trying to be perfect? The pieces embody this ethos and this message to be something to be handed down: We don't need to be perfect, and trauma can be beautiful.
We love a brand with a clear brand ethos. Tell us about the meaning of Namu, and describe your brand's overall look and feel.
Namu means "tree" in Korean. The overall look and feel is to value what the natural world has given us—we are all perfectly imperfect and ebb and flow with the seasons. These are the cycles that will continue as civilizations rise and fall.
You've chosen wood as the medium for Namu's pieces. What drew you into woodwork home goods?
There was a study done in Japan about the cedar wood used in the interior of a home, and it proved wood was the only material that didn't spike stress and blood pressure. The comforting smell of wood showed markers of physiological and psychological response. Energetically, wood feels calming. I'm a highly sensitive person, and home is a safe space for me to exhale a sigh of relief—it helps me when I'm surrounded by wood, and I knew other people valued their homes the way I did.
Could you walk us through the process of working with artisans to create each new collection?
Because my husband is an artist, I understand how important it is to allow an artist to create what they feel compelled to. I try to stay out of their creative process and instead curate from the works they enjoy creating. I've grown to know and be quite intimate with artists' styles and strengths. The only time I will only dictate creatively is if we are working backward into a curatorial theme for a gallery or exhibition. Even then, I try to think of the theme with the artist's intention in mind.
How does your background as a versatile lifestyle editor influence the pieces you partner with artisans on? And is there a specific aesthetic you would like to always be present in your designs?
As an editor, I felt like I sold the idea of perfection and even anxieties for a long time. Here is what you must wear this season, the one tool you need for your skin, etc. Now, I work with artists who believe that "imperfection" is beautiful, like me. I'd like to stay true to this philosophy that informs the aesthetic.
Photography provided by Namu Home Goods
Do you have any styling tips for people who want to incorporate one of these handcrafted pieces into their homes?
Our pieces are incredibly unique, so the only suggestion I have is to place them somewhere you or your guests can enjoy them. They're a great conversation starter for digging deeper: Masterful artists using a precious medium to tell the story of just how valuable imperfection can be. What a beautiful way to start sharing our vulnerabilities and absorb the energy of what the natural world has given us.
We are so excited to be selling your pieces on our site! We already have a few favorites, but are there specific pieces in your collection that you are most proud of or hold a special place for you?
I'm particularly fond of the maple wood bud vases, which are cast in a variety of different finishes, so they look like stone or moss or seashells. We had an American woodworker look at Pak Kyoung Yoon's work and exclaim how physically laborious and painful it must have been to hand carve and chisel this hardwood. I also love Kim Gyu's charred plates and platters. She is one of the few female woodworkers I've met. Burning the wood actually makes it stronger and more durable. I felt this was a very human story. Because don't we also meet fire and come out the other side stronger?
Care is critical in preserving these pieces; how should customers care for them?
Please keep the wood away from water and humid rooms like bathrooms. The wood is alive, and it may crack and change color, but we think this is the desire of the wood, and we respect how the wood grows old as humans do. Also, dust when needed.
What's next for you and Namu Home Goods?
Right now, we are "heritage woodwork to be passed down for generations," but it's not all we will be. We'll continue to grow and change as long as we stay under the ethos of surrendering to the beauty of nature. We've just wrapped up the creative portion of a documentary about the trees and woodworkers in Korea and are beginning to enter into the fundraising phase. It's been such a wonderful labor of love for the past six months.
If you are based in Los Angeles, we currently have an exhibition that runs through May 12th, 2022, at Mohawk General Store's Smock Bazaar in Silverlake to celebrate our one-year anniversary.