“It is a happy talent to know how to play,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.
How many toys do children need? Actually, not many. Just a few good ones. Curating toys for children, I believe, is akin to curating your own wardrobe, bookshelf, or putting together your own home—picking only the pieces that matter to you and that you will want to keep forever. kiko+, a brand by wooden toy manufacturer Kukkia, has some of the best wooden toys for growing the imagination, with abstracted rabbit rattles, wooden townscapes with a chalkboard base where children can define their own roads and paths, and the prettiest pull-back-and-release toy cars that come with simple—but also very cool, by adult standards—prints and a good, chunky proportion that fits snugly into the palm of the hand. There is also a really wonderful kid-size vending machine that rolls out stars and balls. What magic, associated with the wonder that comes with the occasional trip to toy shops and fun fairs. That is the beauty of well-designed toys. You don’t need plastic, you don’t need a sea of buttons and noise. You don’t need to tell the child how to play. Do you remember being in that realm of imagining as a child? That indulgent, blissful state where all that matters is figuring how a wheel turns, or just holding as many little things in your hand as you can?
I first discovered kiko+ at the glorious emporium of Beautiful Unique Things that is Strangelets. Here was where I got my first Astier de Villatte (a star bowl), my first Type 75 table lamp in a vanilla cream by Anglepoise, my first ceramic Jersey Pottery lobster-print bowl that was a birthday present for the husband, and my first Nils Holger Moormann Der Kleine Lehner miscellaneous two-legged table that graced our foyer. A dream space for dream things. For both big and little people. I saw a little black Kuruma car with spots on the top; there was internal hemming and hawing, and the cash till rang. It was for a little person, though maybe also for me.
Here, we speak with the creative director of kiko+, Kaz Shiomi, on creating the delightful array of toys for kiko+, which was founded in 2011. What a beautiful task, to dream up such toys for children.
How did the name of the brand come about?
kiko+ comes from ‘ki’, which means wood in Japanese and ‘ko’, which means child. We wanted to show the link between play and nature.
kiko+ toy brand’s philosophy is “art and play, play and children and children and the forest”. Can you elaborate on this further?
If you look closely at our brand’s logo, you can see each letter is different. This is to represent all the wonderful cultural differences in the world, and to show that we want to celebrate them all!
Products from kiko+ are made from wood. Why the focus on this material for children’s toys? Where are the pieces made in?
Wood is an amazing natural material and we wanted children to notice the difference between this warm, comforting material and plastic. We try to highlight the natural grain of the wood so we do not cover our toys all in paint, but use subtle colours that compliment the wood. Our pieces are designed in Japan and made mostly in Vietnam and China from FSC-cer
What are the design inspirations and ideas behind some of your products, such as the Usagi wobbly rabbit rattles, the Kuruma cars and Gatcha Gatcha? Can you elaborate on how they are designed/ detailed to be handled by children, to inspire or to incite wonder or curiosity?
Usagi, which means rabbit in Japanese, was inspired by my own two pet rabbits. I love the form of their ears and their gentle ways, so I came up with the concept of the wobbly rattles. The Kuruma car is also based on my own vehicle—a vintage Mini. Gatcha Gatcha plays on the long-loved idea of getting a mystery prize after turning a handle, which we made into a star. At Kukkia, we want our pieces to be used in many ways, and not just provide strict instructions on how to play. We try to encourage free thought so as to not limit the wonderful imaginations of children.
There is a very whimsical aesthetic to the toys produced by kiko+. What inspired your take on children’s play?
I think I was inspired by my grandfather who was a carpenter and who used to make a lot of my toys when I was a growing up. He would always say yes—I can make that for you, and came up with ways to make my dreams realities. I like this approach to play. There are no limits and the children will come up with their own way to play. We want our pieces to have a function so as to stimulate their minds but to also encourage creativity.
+ photo credits: kiko+