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In Tokyo, Two Design Store Owners Build a Modernist House for Themselves and Their Feline Family

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In Tokyo, Two Design Store Owners Build a Modernist House for Themselves and Their Feline Family

April 15, 2024

Akira Tani and Kim Hyunsook met in Paris in their twenties. Both had come to immerse themselves in art and culture: Tani, who is Japanese, sold vintage finds at a flea market, and Kim, who is Korean, designed for a fashion brand. After years in France, they moved to Tokyo and founded Orné de Feuilles, their housewares shop specializing in thoughtfully made, everyday goods, such as Shaker Box Wastebaskets and Display-Worthy Cat Beds.

For years the couple lived in a house they longed to redesign, but earthquake regulations hampered what they could do. Ultimately, they decided to start from scratch. After finding a tear-down in Setagaya, a residential area close to central Tokyo, they lived in a rental while creating a 3-D model of the dwelling they envisioned. “I realized that I wanted to live in a south-facing white box with high ceilings, more like a shop or gallery than a house—I wanted the walls to not feel too ‘home,'” says Tani. And since they’re exceptionally devoted to their two rescue cats, the mission was to incorporate inventive feline designs throughout.

They signed on with T. Shoji of T. Shoji Atelier, an architect willing to help them achieve the plan, and after an initial build that took 18 months, Tani,  Kim, and cats moved into what was still very much a construction site. “Our carpenters referred to the project as the Sagrada Familia, after the Gaudí church that’s never been completed,” says Tani. Two years later, the crew would be surprised by how much progress the couple have made, including tackling the tiling and other finish work themselves. Join us for a tour.

Photography by Satoshi Shiraharma, courtesy of Akira Tani and Kim Hyunsook.

tani and kim found their property on the japanese real estate network at home&# 17
Above: Tani and Kim found their property on the Japanese real estate network At Home—wanting a leafy, secluded urban spot, they also used Google Maps “to see where there was greenery.” Their house replaced a 50-year-old modest structure, and since it’s built on a sloped site, Kim explains, “we had to use concrete for the foundation and back wall. We couldn’t afford concrete for the whole thing but wanted to give that impression. It’s a two-story wooden house, but we used a Japanese product called Joripatto, a material similar to concrete, on the outer walls.”

“It’s hard to photograph the whole house because it’s hidden by trees,” continues Kim. Shown here, a glimpse of the entry. Tani says they were inspired by Le Corbusier and other modernists—”we thought it would be simple and cost-effective.”

the still in progress ground floor is devoted to work space, including a studio 18
Above: The still-in-progress ground floor is devoted to work space, including a studio where they photograph Orné de Feuilles products. Tani and Kim did the entry tiling themselves. The stair rail has yet to be installed.
the second floor living quarters open to a combination living and dining room. 19
Above: The second floor living quarters open to a combination living and dining room.

Tani learned to be handy during his time in Paris, when he couldn’t afford to hire help to do things like install lighting. “To be honest, it’s hard to build a house little by little while living in it,” he says. “I recommend going for a minimal plan instead of being as greedy as I was.”

the floor is marmoleum, an eco friendly, linseed based lineoleum. tani&#8\2 20
Above: The floor is Marmoleum, an eco-friendly, linseed-based lineoleum. Tani’s solution for the walls was to texture them with a combination of exterior house paint and sand. The cat is perched atop a wooden Litter Box Cover from Orneko, Orné de Feuille’s offshoot specializing in modern pet accessories most of which are designed in-house.
kim works at hay&#8\2\17;s cph 30 extendable dining table surrounded by weg 21
Above: Kim works at Hay’s CPH 30 Extendable Dining Table surrounded by Wegner Wishbone chairs topped with Orné de Feuilles cushions.

The pendant light is the Astep Model 2065, a re-release of a 1950 design; Tani says he bought the light as a focal point for the room without consulting Kim “and got a little scolded”—but they both liked it so much that they now carry it in their shop. The wall hanging is a mini Moroccan rug, which is also from Orné de Feuilles. The room opens to a  sitting area and kitchen.

a giant floor to ceiling window overlooks trees—there are no visible hou 22
Above: A giant floor-to-ceiling window overlooks trees—there are no visible houses in sight; fittingly, Orné de Feuilles translates as “Decorated with Leaves.” The cat-size basket seat is Orneko’s Iron Leg Rattan Chair.
a closer look at the wall texture: the sitting room and adjacent kitchen wall i 23
Above: A closer look at the wall texture: the sitting room and adjacent kitchen wall is mud-colored and only the upper half is mixed with sand. The shelf displays, among other things, tea packages that Tani collected in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and an Orné de Feuilles Kantha Fabric Panel.
kim is extremely hands on, too. she cushioned their vintage loveseat in an indi 24
Above: Kim is extremely hands-on, too. She cushioned their vintage loveseat in an Indian plaid.
&#8\2\20;the kitchen was designed to be easy to work in and to hide unneces 25
Above: “The kitchen was designed to be easy to work in and to hide unnecessary things when not cooking, so we included a lot of storage,” says Kim. The cabinets are from Ikea customized by Tani with wooden handles—the plan is to entirely replace the doors with wood: “Because the overall interior is modern and the floor has a concrete tone, we want the kitchen to have a warm atmosphere.” The counter—which is 75 centimeters deep rather than the 60-centimeter norm in Japan—came from a local stone supplier.
kim stitched a pojagi for the kitchen skylight as a shield against the summer s 26
Above: Kim stitched a pojagi for the kitchen skylight as a shield against the summer sun.
everyday wares are piled on custom stainless steel open shelves. 27
Above: Everyday wares are piled on custom stainless steel open shelves.
the couple sourced the square tiles for their corner backsplash from toolbox&#x 28
Above: The couple sourced the square tiles for their corner backsplash from Toolbox—read about the Tokyo apartment materials store here and here. The wooden shelf on the back wall is a vintage European piece of unknown origin.
the tall ceilings extend into the bathroom, the window sizes were an ongoing to 29
Above: The tall ceilings extend into the bathroom, The window sizes were an ongoing topic of debate: Kim says it was an extrovert/introvert discussion—she’s the more outgoing and wanted large glazing while Tani campaigned for privacy. In the bathroom, she wanted transparent glass  and Tani wanted opaque—since the windows are small and overhead, Kim won in this case. The hanging light is Astier de Villatte’s ceramic Marguerite Lamp from Orné de Feuilles.
the stone basin is from sanwa company. 30
Above: The stone basin is from Sanwa Company.
the couple&#8\2\17;s bed frame is from muji with orné de feuilles& 31
Above: The couple’s bed frame is from Muji with Orné de Feuilles’s own speckled Plant-Dyed Cushions. The DCW Mantis light shares a wall with an Orné de Feuilles Original Wall Shelf.
the work continues on the ground floor. 32
Above: The work continues on the ground floor.
the couple use one of the downstairs rooms for remote work. 33
Above: The couple use one of the downstairs rooms for remote work.
the &#8\2\20;cat passageway&#8\2\2\1; is an orneko design in progress. 34
Above: The “cat passageway” is an Orneko design-in-progress.

More Japanese home design inspiration:

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