It’s tempting to opt for form over function when it comes to building one’s own home. After all, who doesn’t want to live in a good-looking space?
Thankfully for this couple and their three young children, practicality won out – without having to compromise on aesthetic.
“I think that, while the other plans looked interesting, imagining actually living there made them choose the floor plan that fit their daily life more,” says Joe Chikamori, principal and chief architect of the firm 07Beach.
“The wife, for example, can observe the kids easily while doing housework. The connection between rooms around the spacious living area can be felt as one space, which they preferred to partitioned rooms.”
Thoroughly Japanese in inspiration – “it was clear from the beginning that the husband loves traditional Japanese style,” says Joe – the 1,400sqft house in northern Kyoto is more contemporary in its interpretation, easily calling to mind the lifestyle brand Muji.
Sparse furnishings, honey-coloured wooden interiors, and sun-drenched white walls all come together to minimalist effect, heightening the dramatic double-height living space and the skylights in the slanted ceilings.
The spacious, column-free void, along with the slanted ceilings, says Joe, are among the traditional Japanese details found throughout the home.
A garage fronts the house, while the living and dining areas, kitchen, bathroom and master bedroom occupy the ground level. Beautiful mosaic murals feature in the bathroom, designed by a local craftsman. Upstairs are the children’s bedrooms and a tatami room. “In usual Japanese houses, we enjoy exterior garden views from these tatami rooms,” says Joe.
For this house, such views come by way of the interior courtyard, which doubles as the house’s garden. Here, as well, lies the house’s most unique detail.
With space limitations restricting the inclusion of a garden outside or a proper courtyard inside, Joe and the couple opted for the next best thing: a tree in its own plot as part of the house.
It was a challenge, needless to say. “Having a tree inside a house is difficult – the conditions that the plant needs and that humans need are almost opposites. Trees need humidity, wind, rain, and direct sunlight,” says Joe. With some research, though, he eventually found evergreen tree options that suited residential conditions.
It may be the least practical feature of the house, but it’s clearly worth the character it brings.
“The tree was four metres tall when planted, and one day it will reach the ceiling. I’m looking forward to seeing it from the upstairs tatami room,” says Joe. “I also expect the tree to be like part of the family, growing taller along with the kids growing older.”
As an designer of commercial spaces, the house – belonging to a friend – is Joe’s first foray into designing residences; it is also his first building design from scratch.
“I’ve come to understand that building a house is one of the most important and biggest events for every owner,” he says. “Every part of the house will be a place for their lives, and nothing can be compromised.”
“With commercial projects, the timeline is much faster, and clients often leave me to design more as the main goal is success in business. But with a residential project, I feel that a client and I co-work closely toward one goal – the real goal comes from the client, and I help find it. Such a process was a new and worthwhile experience for me.”
As it likely was for the homeowner, who appreciated the practicality of the floor plan's openness. “The sunlight-flooded living room and passageways around it work nicely for the family, as well as when they have friends over,” says Joe.
“The parents enjoy chatting in the central living and dining spaces with their kids running around them. It’s like a picnic in the park, but with a more unique, vertical communication between the upstairs and downstairs. The ambience is so peaceful, and bright.”