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Modern Family Living in Tokyo: A Budget New Build by Takatina

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Modern Family Living in Tokyo: A Budget New Build by Takatina

June 21, 2017

Architect Takaaki Kawabata and designer Christina Kawabata, the husband-and-wife-team behind the firm Takatina, are modern pioneers: They live with their two young kids in an upstate New York cabin that they transformed into a model of minimalism (see An Architect’s One-Room Family House). Inspired by traditional Japanese communal houses called minkas, their open-plan quarters received a record number of Remodelista reader comments (such as, “a great alternative to the bloated American household,” and “Wow. Just wow”).

Taka and Christina’s fans included an international fashion buyer and a hair stylist, who, when they decided to move with their two kids from Brooklyn back to Tokyo, hired the couple to build them their own urban version of a contemporary minka. The designers were in on the project from the get-go: They went property hunting with the couple and together found a 1,852-square-foot hilly corner lot in a suburb of detached houses west of Tokyo. “I hate all of the surrounding houses; I want to do something completely different,” the fashion exec told the designers, and sent a photograph of a Carl Andre wood sculpture to embolden them. But budget was another consideration from the start: “Everything we chose was the most cost-effective option,” Taka told us. Here are the results.

Photography by Mikiko Kikuyama, courtesy of Takatina.

 Dubbed the Black House, the two-story structure is clad in an industrial corrugated metal paneling known as galvanium, selected, say the designers, &#8
Above: Dubbed the Black House, the two-story structure is clad in an industrial corrugated metal paneling known as galvanium, selected, say the designers, “to meet our client’s affection for machine-like aesthetics.” Shown here, the front door on the eastern elevation.
 &#8
Above: “Rejecting the outside scenery while creating an introspective microcosmos filled with natural light and wind became the main concept,” write the designers.

The fact that the structure is raised above the street enables it to have privacy—”our client wanted to be able to be naked in his house without any window coverings,” says Taka, noting that 90 percent of the glazing is on the street-facing northern elevation.

The main floor is a single open room with an data-src=
Above: The main floor is a single open room with an 11-foot-tall exposed post and beam ceiling and a polished concrete floor with radiant heating.

The fashion exec found the outsize brass hooks in the entry for sale on the street in Paris. “They’re so big and heavy, we couldn’t just use Sheetrock; we had to apply blocking to support them,” Taka told us. “They’re like what you see in old movies.”

The living space is filled with natural light and cross ventilation, thanks to the north-facing windows (&#8
Above: The living space is filled with natural light and cross ventilation, thanks to the north-facing windows (“we went for the largest we could get within the budget,” says Taka) and sliding glass door that opens to a pocket terrace.

The family had previously lived in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, loft and brought the fashion exec’s Domidcentury furniture and art collection with them. Interestingly, the white walls are wallpapered rather than painted. “It looks and feels like paint,” says Taka, “but here, contractors prefer wallpaper because buildings move a lot and it’s more earthquake proof. It’s also less expensive than paint and there are amazing products; we used a textured white paper from Sangetsu.”

The gravel-lined courtyard serves as a buffer between the house and its next-door neighbor.
Above: The gravel-lined courtyard serves as a buffer between the house and its next-door neighbor.

Read about the advantages of gravel gardens in Gardenista’s Hardscaping 101.

Floating stairs with an open rail—something permitted in Japan and encouraged by the owners—serve as a sculptural presence in the space.
Above: Floating stairs with an open rail—something permitted in Japan and encouraged by the owners—serve as a sculptural presence in the space.

Initially intended to be constructed in steel, the stair is stained Douglas fir, which the young carpenter showed Taka would be more affordable. “We thought it would be opposite, but that’s not the case in Japan. A structural engineer got involved and it was extremely cost-effective. We worked with the crew as a team. There’s a huge passion for workmanship there and pride in what they do. That’s one of the reasons we decided to expose the ceiling frame: it’s so beautifully made.”

 The kitchen is set off by a stainless-steel-topped stained oak island modeled after a Donald Judd piece. It has a four-burner cooktop, the standard size in Japan, and a Sheetrock-encased hood that extends from the ceiling: &#8
Above: The kitchen is set off by a stainless-steel-topped stained oak island modeled after a Donald Judd piece. It has a four-burner cooktop, the standard size in Japan, and a Sheetrock-encased hood that extends from the ceiling: “sculptural and affordable,” says Taka.

The fridge, small appliances, and pantry are hidden behind the large white sliding door next to the work counter. The interior shelves are also on a sliding track to make the goods easily accessible. The round table is an Isamu Noguchi classic, the Cyclone Dining from Knoll; the chairs are Eames Molded Plywood from Herman Miller.

 A Louis Poulsen pendant light, the PH5 by Poul Henningsen, hangs over the Noguchi table.
Above: A Louis Poulsen pendant light, the PH5 by Poul Henningsen, hangs over the Noguchi table.

The slot window on the west side, “captures the sky and the sunset.”

The fashion exec&#8
Above: The fashion exec’s prized pieces include a Grete Jalk armchair and coffee table.
The Douglas fir stairs have a narrow steel railing (yes, it passed code). As for the safety question: &#8
Above: The Douglas fir stairs have a narrow steel railing (yes, it passed code). As for the safety question: “We wondered about that, too,” says Taka, “but our client pointed out that his kids, who are 6 and 11, go the playground and climb without causing concern.”
The space off the stairs serves as a study and bedroom for the kids. By day, it&#8
Above: The space off the stairs serves as a study and bedroom for the kids. By day, it’s wide open; at night, futons are unfurled and curtains divide it into two sleeping areas.

The desk-for-two has a stained Douglas fir top and custom iron legs. The floor is walnut.

 In the master bedroom, the closet is set off by olive-colored heavy cotton canvas curtains that hang from a ceiling track and conceal standard metal shelving. &#8
Above: In the master bedroom, the closet is set off by olive-colored heavy cotton canvas curtains that hang from a ceiling track and conceal standard metal shelving. “This cost at least a third less than installing a door and cabinetry,” say Taka, “and it’s machine washable.”

The Case Study V-Leg Bed is paired with a Grete Jalk armchair (the mate to the one at the bottom of the stairs), Saarinen table, and vintage lamp of unknown origin.

In the family bath, a stained Douglas fir shelf supports a simple sink and serves as a place to prop art. The designers used an affordable off-the-shelf Japanese unit system in the inner bathroom.
Above: In the family bath, a stained Douglas fir shelf supports a simple sink and serves as a place to prop art. The designers used an affordable off-the-shelf Japanese unit system in the inner bathroom.
The structure&#8
Above: The structure’s prominent windows take on a jack-o’-lantern effect at night.
The ground floor is open plan; curtained dividers allow for flexible living on the second story, where the master bedroom and bath are the only spaces with doors.
Above: The ground floor is open plan; curtained dividers allow for flexible living on the second story, where the master bedroom and bath are the only spaces with doors.

Tour Takatina’s own house in The New Pioneers: An Architect’s One-Room Family House.

Browse our Japan archives for more of our finds.

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