The Minami Aoyama stretch of Omotesando is home to the flagship stores of Tokyo’s most powerful and cutting-edge designers, each one a bold architectural statement. Over The Counter, in a tiny ground-floor room that was originally a hut for two security guards, is more low-key and set back from the street – blink and you’ll miss it.
But that doesn’t make the store any less influential: this is where the customers of the neighbouring avant-garde boutiques come for functional, everyday objects, designed and styled beautifully but without unnecessary flourish. It might be Tokyo’s ultimate gift shop.
Over The Counter operates like an old‑fashioned general store, and from the staff uniform to the proliferation of heavy wooden-handled kitchen brooms and brushes (from Y13,000, about £77), it looks more than a little like one, too. Everything is behind glass, or in drawers, tucked away behind the store’s eponymous counter. “It’s a reaction to internet shopping,” says owner Sonya Park (first picture), the creative director of insider fashion brand Arts & Science, who opened the store in 2009, after briefly converting the space into an art gallery. “I wanted people to come in and have a conversation with the staff and learn about the products they are buying.”
While there’s been an overuse of the word “curation” in retail of late, it’s difficult to resist here. Park’s aesthetic encompasses a kind of rough-hewn modernism and simplicity, but always with quality. That can mean anything from IFUJI’s mid-19th-century-style wooden Shaker storage boxes (from about £36, third picture) to shiny copper kettles by Simplex (about £159, second picture). “I like functionality,” says Park. The staff uniform of a flax-coloured linen coat is a paradigm of the house style – and also sells well as an item in its own right (about £379).
Some of the bestselling objects in the store are from the various collections of tableware. Cutlery by Eichenlaub (from about £62) – with ebony or white acrylic handles and aluminium rivets – would suit even the most Bauhaus of homes, as would the graphic pewter-rimmed plates and cups by Match of Italy (from about £49) and the elegantly simple plates that Astier de Villatte makes for Arts & Science, bearing one of the A&S logos of three crossed keys (from about £92).
Alongside other stylish Arts & Science- branded items – from smartly packaged cylindrical boxes containing long white‑tipped matches (about £5) to hand‑towels (from about £15) and vintage-style all-in-one men’s pyjamas (about £213) – the store sells products from companies sympathetic to Park’s intelligent aesthetic, such as the Australian labels Aesop and Murchison-Hume. The latter’s Luxury Laundry Soak and Heirloom Dishwashing Liquid (about £11 each) are eco‑friendly, effective and smell great, but their main appeal is that they are too handsome to hide away in a cupboard – which neatly sums up the store’s ethos. “Most people don’t have enough storage space,” explains Park. “You should pick things to have around you that you are happy to have on show – whether that’s a candle or a coffee-maker.”