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Sergej Kirilov “Lacquer Decor” is mainly using the traditional Japanese lacquer technique of Urushi to decorate customized panels and furniture. All of them are unique pieces. The URUSHI comes from the sap of a tree that grows in China, Korea, Japan and in the eastern region of the Himalayas. This sap contains urushiol resin which, when exposed to moisture and air, polymerizes and becomes a lacquer hard, almost like plastic. Sometimes the achievements of these pieces requires several months of work. “Lacquer Decor” merges the traditional Japanese Urushi with contemporary trends and needs.


. We offer the possibility for devising unique pieces together with you, from design, manufacturing and the finishing. If desired we can finish your designs, existing furniture and other objects with this high-quality exceptional Japanese lacquer upon request.

The techniques which we use have been based on the traditional Japanese lacquer techniques with the use of Urushi. We were privileged to have learned these basic techniques from a Japanese lacquer artist. With a lot of passion for material and by many years’ experimenting with these traditional techniques we found our own way and managed to create our entirely own style.

Unique, contemporary and with respect for traditional crafts.  The process is long and labour intensive, independent of the size of the surface it costs on average 6 months to carry out the finishing. In some cases 60 layers are applied and polished by hand.  Depending on the kind of lacquer the time it takes a single layer to dry can take from 2 hours up to 3 months.

URUSHI  What is urushi?  Urushi is the sap of the urushi (or lacquer) tree. It is native to China, Korea, Japan, and the eastern Himalayas region. The sap of this tree contains a resin-urushiol, which when exposed to moisture and air, polymerises and becomes a very hard, durable, plastic-like substance, lacquer. Urushi is, in fact, a natural plastic.

History  There is evidence that stone-age peoples discovered the useful properties of the sap of the urushi tree. They first used its adhesive properties in the making of spears and arrows. In early Japan, the people recognized the durability and shining beauty of urushi and they began using it to coat wood, pottery, baskets and bone objects. In Japan the urushi bowl or plate became a part of the harmony of traditional Japanese food. Maki-e and raden urushi techniques elegantly used gold and silver to ennoble furniture, make-up accessories, toys, and writing implements.  Urushi also became an integral part of the harmony of Natsume (tea canisters), Kogou (incense burners) and other tools and utensils used in the tea ceremony at the court. urushi was used outside the court, in Buddhist temples and in the making of armour, helmets, swords, and other implements of war. In the 17th Century, the Dutch East India Company introduced Japanese and Chinese lacquer ware to Europe.  In eighteenth century Chinese screens were imported into Europe, often for the purpose of being used to create new objects. Many of these hybrid pieces of furniture are found in museums and private collections today.  In the twentieth century a number of designers working in France began to use Asian lacquer for furniture and other decorative arts. Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand are two of the artists who produced screens, furniture and paintings using Asian lacquer.  Today, urushi has become an important material in the art scene in Japan and other parts of Asia. Contemporary artists are increasing working with urushi, its colours, shapes and techniques, in their paintings, art objects and jewellery.

Describe your profession, with details on products, services, expertise and know how.

I would describe myself primarily as an Urushi Artist and I work together with my wife Marina who is similarly skilled. I am also a designer/cabinetmaker and it was through my work in this trade that I became aware of Urushi lacquer decorative finishes. Urushi is the name given Japanese lacquer – the material is 100% natural as it is derived from the sap of a tree. It has been used in the Far East for over 9000 years as a protective and a decorative lacquer. After acquiring the traditional skills, we have developed contemporary decorative finishes incorporating unusual materials such as gold, silver and bronze leaf/powders, shagreen, eggshell and combinations of pigments to produce beautiful and unique effects. We have always been keen to push the boundaries and have succeeded in bringing this new approach to a traditional craft to the attention of interior design professionals worldwide. Our work can stand alone as wall panels/screens, artwork or as a feature on high end furniture.

What materials do you use? Where and how you purchase them?

We work exclusively with authentic materials and tools and we buy 95% of these from our suppliers in Japan. The urushi lacquer is a naturally occuring resin harvested from the Rhus Vernacifera tree and the very best quality originates in Japan.  There are various grades of the sap and it is important that the natural lacquer is untainted – the quality of Japanese sourced material is the absolute best. However, because the amount of Japanese urushi harvesting is limited and we often work on very large items such as tabletops, where necessary, we purchase urushi harvested in China but processed in Japan. The brushes and tools are also acquired from Japan where there is the very widest choice available.

Describe the techniques, the tools and the materials you use in your work.

The basic technique in our Urushi artistry is to apply a number of layers of lacquer to a base material. The lacquer can be ‘clear’ or we can colour the lacquer using natural pigments. In every case, the various coats have to be completely dry before the application of the subsequent layer and it is this multiple layering that gives the depth of beauty and hardness to the finished effect. Some finishes require previously applied coats of lacquer to be sanded back to expose the contrasting materials used with-in earlier layers. However, there are 100’s of different techniques that the urushi artist can use and many that we have developed ourselves. We introduce metal powders such as gold, silver and tin, Mother of Pearl, and fragmented eggshell to name just a few of the decorative finishes that we offer. As even the most basic single colour finish can require 20 layers with the more intricate finishes needing up to 60 separate coats of lacquer, you can appreciate that it is a very time consuming art. To apply the lacquer, we use wooden spatulas in various shapes, together with a wide selection of brushes which might be made of rabbit, horse or human hair. We have also developed specialist tool designs to fit the processes unique to us.

What is your “ideal” client’s profile?

We have a very wide client base and work directly with Interior designers, artists and private clients. We also collaborate with specialist cabinetmakers, often applying decorative urushi lacquer finishes to their furniture. I think that as my first profession was cabinetmaking, my ideal clients are based in this profession as well. It doesn’t seem to matter from which country they are, we seem to speak the same language of ‘furniture making’ and naturally share the same appreciation of each other’s work and skills. There are no shortcuts, no places to hide mistakes and accordingly there is a constant strive towards perfection in all we do.

At what age and under what circumstances did you start this job?

I have to start my answer by saying that I have never thought of what I do as simply ‘a job’. I did discover the beautiful world of Urushi completely by accident but I was intrigued by it from the very first time I saw this ancient decorative art. I was restoring a French Secretaire from the early 1800’s that had Japanese lacquered panels incorporated. As restoration of these panels was outside my abilities at the time, I contacted the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for advice and they gave me the name of a respected Urushi lacquer artist based in the Netherlands. When my wife Marina and I went to meet her and saw the urushi samples and art work at her studio, we both immediately knew that we wanted to learn more about this very unusual craft.

Where and how long have you been trained before you were ready to start your own business? In a training institute, with a craftsman or both? What do you think is the best way to learn your job today? Schools, training with craftsmen …?

It was approximately 15 years ago that we first became aware of Urushi and with-in a few weeks we started lessons with the Urushi lacquer artist Mariko Nishide who we had met by chance as a result of my work on that French Secretaire. We were her pupils for 2 years. At the beginning, the skills and techniques that we learnt from Mariko were incorporated as additional finishes to my designs, but we soon started to receive commissions just for the decorative urushi finishes and it very quickly became the main part of our business. As a consequence, we formed a company offering a wide variety of unique and very special finishes. I would say that Marina and I were very fortunate to have been introduced to a Urushi artist resident in the Netherlands – I think it would have been impossible to develop the requisite skills other than studying in Japan. There are not many people who work with this medium at the highest-level outside of Asia and the training time can be very long term. It is known that many people have an allergic reaction to the urushi sap when it is still in it’s liquid form and so some who start to learn this ancient craft quickly discover that they are unable to persist with it. 

What role do “talent” and “creativity” play in your profession?

I would say that in our situation, it was a desire to replicate the selection of Urushi finishes that we first saw that morphed into a talent for the work. Over time, the talent developed into a passion that then inspired the confidence to investigate “what if” when working with the various materials. This in turn gave rise to the creativity and artistic viewpoint which is now such an important part of what we do. 

And what about innovation, what are the changes since you started? Do you use new materials, tools, or processes in manufacturing and marketing? What is the impact of innovation on your performance? How could your profession be even more innovative?

Urushi lacquer has been used for the protection and decoration of objects in China and Japan for at least 9000 years. Accordingly, it has traditions which are well respected and observed in the region and changes there have been limited because of this reverence. Marina and I found success in what we did, because we viewed the opportunities without feeling the need to only do what had been done before, and were therefore not restricted in taking the possibilities forward. As mentioned previously, we have developed our own processes and techniques, explored the use of novel materials and also invented new tools to facilitate these new aspects on large scale projects. This is how we are constantly innovating. Innovation is also coming from the producers and suppliers of the raw materials who are developing the range of lacquers and publishing the information on the internet. The use of social media sites such as Instagram, to introduce a wider audience to the beauty of the craft is also very welcomed.  However, the best tool for innovation is your own Brain…

What is the best way to learn your profession?

I believe the best way is training on a one to one basis by a Master. The techniques involved are very precise and in the early stages of learning this craft many mistakes are made. You really do need the individual tuition to inform you as to where things went wrong and why. This explanation is not so easily available to find. When we started to learn the craft, very little information was available written in English. This has improved with the growth of the Internet but there is no substitute for learning from someone with experience.

What is your message to younger generations who might choose your profession?

Don’t be afraid of difficulties and barriers – be aware of them but not afraid of them. Believe that you can succeed, make long and short term goals and work towards them. Perhaps you will not reach all of your targets, but the journey to success can be such a joy!

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