written by:
photos by:
April 6, 2011
Originally published in The Photo Issue

Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi’s weekend retreat, two and a half hours northwest of Tokyo, is “an arresting concept,” photographer Dean Kaufman says, who documented the singular refuge in the Chichibu mountain range. “It’s finely balanced between rustic camping and feeling like the Farnsworth House.”

  • 
  One North Face tent sits atop a deck; another caps the main building, which contains a kitchen and dining area.
    One North Face tent sits atop a deck; another caps the main building, which contains a kitchen and dining area.
  • 
  A view of the mountains from the village of Kawakami, en route to the Kobayashis’ property.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    A view of the mountains from the village of Kawakami, en route to the Kobayashis’ property. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  The long, lean Kobayashi complex includes a bathroom and storage room in the structure on the far right.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    The long, lean Kobayashi complex includes a bathroom and storage room in the structure on the far right. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  The rooftop tent can be accessed from the interior via a wooden ladder or—for the more athletic—via a series of wall-mounted climbing holds, made by Vock and carved from persimmon-tinted hardwood.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    The rooftop tent can be accessed from the interior via a wooden ladder or—for the more athletic—via a series of wall-mounted climbing holds, made by Vock and carved from persimmon-tinted hardwood. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  The couple stockpiles wood under the deck.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    The couple stockpiles wood under the deck. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Trans­lucent fiberglass panel walls form a permeable, fiber-reinforced plastic membrane between indoors and out.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Trans­lucent fiberglass panel walls form a permeable, fiber-reinforced plastic membrane between indoors and out. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi are ready for adventure.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi are ready for adventure. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Mami and Ishii Hideaki (a friend and .......Research employee) prepare lunch in the cozy main building. The room is rustic and utilitarian, with a double-decker wood-burning stove, tons of open storage, and a sink fashioned from galvanized buckets. But there’s an underlying high-design ethos: The wire baskets are handmade classics from Korbo, a Swedish company, and what looks like a paper-wrapped box in front of the stove is actually a leather cushion by Japanese artist Nakano.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Mami and Ishii Hideaki (a friend and .......Research employee) prepare lunch in the cozy main building. The room is rustic and utilitarian, with a double-decker wood-burning stove, tons of open storage, and a sink fashioned from galvanized buckets. But there’s an underlying high-design ethos: The wire baskets are handmade classics from Korbo, a Swedish company, and what looks like a paper-wrapped box in front of the stove is actually a leather cushion by Japanese artist Nakano. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  A view of the surrounding tree canopy.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    A view of the surrounding tree canopy. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Inside one of the Kobayashis' North Face tents.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Inside one of the Kobayashis' North Face tents. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Scenes from a weekend in the woods feature many .......Research products, including camping cookware and striped wool blankets.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Scenes from a weekend in the woods feature many .......Research products, including camping cookware and striped wool blankets. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Designed by Shin Ohori of General Design Co., the structure—Setsumasa bristles at the word “house,” since his desire was for something that “was not a residence”  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Designed by Shin Ohori of General Design Co., the structure—Setsumasa bristles at the word “house,” since his desire was for something that “was not a residence” Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Food is served in traditional camping cookware.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Food is served in traditional camping cookware. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Setsumasa and Hideaki toss on the rain fly. The solar panel in the foreground supplies daytime electricity.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Setsumasa and Hideaki toss on the rain fly. The solar panel in the foreground supplies daytime electricity. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  A stockpile of wood sheltered from the elements.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    A stockpile of wood sheltered from the elements. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Mami and Goo the Kishu dog return from a frolic in the forest, which the couple, along with Hideaki, has thinned and trimmed back over many weekends. It’s an idyllic escape and a world away from the concrete expanse of Tokyo.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Mami and Goo the Kishu dog return from a frolic in the forest, which the couple, along with Hideaki, has thinned and trimmed back over many weekends. It’s an idyllic escape and a world away from the concrete expanse of Tokyo. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  When the Kobayashis arrive, first step is unloading their truck.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    When the Kobayashis arrive, first step is unloading their truck. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Even in cold weather, they open the sliding doors to let the fresh air in.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Even in cold weather, they open the sliding doors to let the fresh air in. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  The building that shelters their bathroom also contains a large pantry and storage closet, filled to the brim with camping and outdoor gear.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    The building that shelters their bathroom also contains a large pantry and storage closet, filled to the brim with camping and outdoor gear. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  A peek inside the bathroom, where a raised topographic map doubles as reading material and travel inspiration.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    A peek inside the bathroom, where a raised topographic map doubles as reading material and travel inspiration. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  The yellow North Face tent looms over the top of the main building.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    The yellow North Face tent looms over the top of the main building. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Setsumasa Kobayashi reclines on a striped wool blanket from his 2010 'Horse Blanket Research' line.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Setsumasa Kobayashi reclines on a striped wool blanket from his 2010 'Horse Blanket Research' line. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  A weekend visitor packs up his gear in the morning.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    A weekend visitor packs up his gear in the morning. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Weekends at the retreat are relaxed, consisting mostly of chopping firewood or sitting around the fire pit on the deck.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Weekends at the retreat are relaxed, consisting mostly of chopping firewood or sitting around the fire pit on the deck. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  The dreadlocked Ishii Hideaki grins at the gate to the Kobayashi's property.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    The dreadlocked Ishii Hideaki grins at the gate to the Kobayashi's property. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  The ultimate luxury: a hot bath in the clawfoot tub, with the fiberglass door open wide to the woods.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    The ultimate luxury: a hot bath in the clawfoot tub, with the fiberglass door open wide to the woods. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  Hideaki and Goo the dog scout the scene.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    Hideaki and Goo the dog scout the scene. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
  • 
  A solar array (on the left-hand side of the photo) powers the lights and outlets (and laptops) during the day.  Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
    A solar array (on the left-hand side of the photo) powers the lights and outlets (and laptops) during the day. Courtesy of Dean Kaufman 2010.
Previous Next
Slideshow loading...
@current / @total
Yellow North Face tent atop a wooden deck
One North Face tent sits atop a deck; another caps the main building, which contains a kitchen and dining area.
Project 
Kobayashi Residence

Designed by Shin Ohori of General Design Co., the structure—Setsumasa bristles at the word “house,” since his desire was for something that “was not a residence”—and its wooded surroundings serve as a testing ground for the Kobayashis, who design outdoor clothing and gear (as well as many other products) for their company, .......Research. The shelter is constructed from locally harvested larch wood and removable fiberplastic walls and is crowned with two yellow dome tents used as year-round bedrooms.

Still, this is no primitive lean-to. There’s electricity, hot water, and a kitchen—not to mention iPads, Internet, and a clawfoot tub. By day, the couple trims trees and chops firewood. At night, they sit around a campfire and eat Japanese curry, listen to Phish, and balance their laptops on their knees. This is what a modern back-to-the-land effort looks like.

For more images of the project, please view the slideshow.

You May Also Like

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...