By Naoko Endo, Houzz
This contemporary house in central Tokyo is mostly surrounded by other houses. At just over 753 square feet, the lot is only slightly larger than the area zoning minimum, and about half of it is devoted to a garage and terrace. The owners’ greatest wish was for lots of outdoor space, and the architect came up with a strikingly original solution.
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: A couple in their 30s
Architect: Takuro Yamamoto
Size: The lot is about 755 square feet (70 square meters)
In Japanese architecture, the sunny south side of detached homes is often given over to a terrace. However, in this case, the south side bordered the next house, so a terrace wouldn’t have worked.
Based on the owners’ wishes for outdoor space, the architect proposed setting the house over to one side of the property, with a broad north-south “passage” on the other. The passage makes up half the volume of the home — an unusually generous allocation, but it allowed the part of the property with the most sunlight to be made into a terrace.
The terrace space brings sunlight and breezes into the living space, two elements that can be hard to come by in the city. But at the same time, the larger the terrace, the smaller the indoor living space. Architect Takuro Yamamoto confronted this dilemma with the owners, and we asked him about his response to the problem.
“Our design method places equal value both on inside and outside spaces,” Yamamoto says. “The couple desired a certain lifestyle, so they had a different perspective from that of the designer and builder, but we were all moving in the same basic direction. I think this is a big reason why they hired me as the architect. The battle between the inside and outside continued down to the bitter end, and I did a study on a 2-inch scale.”
The terrace is 192 square feet, and the roof is about 16½ feet high. The safety railings are made of wire to preserve the sense of openness. If you sit down on the red cedar deck, your view broadens even further, and though you’re still technically “outside,” the sense of privacy is strong. The edge of the deck is nearly 13 feet off the ground — higher than the second floors of the neighboring houses, preserving the inhabitants’ all-important privacy.
The biggest question was how to lay out the necessary living space in the drastically reduced volume. To stay within construction restrictions limiting the height of the eaves, the house could be no taller than 29½ feet. It also needed to be set back from the property lines, and from the road in front. Yamamoto took all of these conditions into account.
“Before I became an independent architect, I worked at an agency that designed a lot of small houses, and I had experience overseeing a site
that was only 167 square feet. After becoming an independent, I continued planning for properties that had room to spare, but I always preferred designing urban-style homes,” Yamamoto says.
Considering the layout from bottom to top, Yamamoto put the first floor as far underground as allowed without it being considered a basement, and he put some of the bedrooms and bathrooms there. The second floor — the terrace level — is a combination kitchen, dining and living space. On the top level are the couple’s bedroom and study.
The house hides a secret that can’t be seen from the outside: a tiny extra room. Between the first and second floors is a storage space with a round window overlooking the atrium-style entrance hall.
The door to the storage space is to the right of the bottom stairs, which slide back.
When you push back the bottom section of the stairs, the “secret door” in the wall can be accessed.
The ceiling of the storage area is less than 4½ feet high. Items are stored here to free up space in the rest of the house.
The house is filled with design features that add to a feeling of openness. The metal struts beneath the floor were cleverly reinforced, and part of the wooden floorboards were shored up with metal to keep the beams narrower and cut down on the thickness of the floor. Thus, the rooms have higher ceilings, which give a light and airy look to the entire building, including the terrace.
If you throw the terrace doors wide open, the second-floor interior flows seamlessly into the outdoors. The herringbone floor adds to the synergistic effect. The pattern is oriented to draw the eye toward the outside.
“Along with the large terrace, the owners requested a new house that would preserve the feel of an old house. They imagined something like a Parisian apartment. Together we selected materials that would age naturally and give the house flavor. The outside walls may look cold in photographs, but the surface is covered in slightly rough mortar, which creates an overall feeling of warmth,” Yamamoto says.
The owners took great care in choosing the living room sofa, which is upholstered in antiqued leather. The low shelf surrounding the floor is contiguous with the steps leading upstairs, but it also serves as a television cabinet, a bench for the dining area and a table at the perfect height for someone sitting on the floor.
This bathroom door handle is also an original design. It’s handcrafted of wood, as is the door latch. “Metal handles wouldn’t fit with the atmosphere the couple wanted,” Yamamoto says. To soften the cold feeling of the metal, switchplates and pins were painted white, creating a uniform look.
In the third-floor bedroom, the door handle is low for the height of the door. But this was a conscious decision to position the handle ergonomically. The designer believes design details like these give a home a feeling of human warmth