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.”

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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.
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View of the mountains from the village of Kawakami
A view of the mountains from the village of Kawakami, en route to the Kobayashis’ property.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Wooden structured vacation home in Japan
The long, lean Kobayashi complex includes a bathroom and storage room in the structure on the far right.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Wood house interior with wood ladder leading to rooftop tent
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.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Stacks of wood outside
The couple stockpiles wood under the deck.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Outdoor patio with translucent fiberglass panel walls
Trans­lucent fiberglass panel walls form a permeable, fiber-reinforced plastic membrane between indoors and out.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi standing outside of their modern tent platform in Japan
Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi are ready for adventure.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Mami Kobayashi and Ishii Hideaki in the kitchen with double-decker wood-burning stove
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.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Landscape of  the Chichibu mountain range surrounding a modern outdoor house
A view of the surrounding tree canopy.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Interior of the yellow North Face tent
Inside one of the Kobayashis' North Face tents.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Modern deck with striped wool blanket from Setsumasa Kobayashi's line
Scenes from a weekend in the woods feature many .......Research products, including camping cookware and striped wool blankets.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Wood house designed by Shin Ohori of General Design Co
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”
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Food served in a traditional camping cookware
Food is served in traditional camping cookware.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Outdoor view of wooden home with solar panels
Setsumasa and Hideaki toss on the rain fly. The solar panel in the foreground supplies daytime electricity.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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A stockpile of wood and yellow North Face tent
A stockpile of wood sheltered from the elements.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Wood house designed by Shin Ohori of General Design Co.
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.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Unloading truck for housing moving
When the Kobayashis arrive, first step is unloading their truck.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Wooden house with sliding wood doors overlooking outside
Even in cold weather, they open the sliding doors to let the fresh air in.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Large wood pantry and storage closet
The building that shelters their bathroom also contains a large pantry and storage closet, filled to the brim with camping and outdoor gear.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Bathroom with wood walls and raised topographic map
A peek inside the bathroom, where a raised topographic map doubles as reading material and travel inspiration.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Yellow North Face tent on top of the main building
The yellow North Face tent looms over the top of the main building.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Setsumasa Kobayashi reclining on a striped wool blanket
Setsumasa Kobayashi reclines on a striped wool blanket from his 2010 'Horse Blanket Research' line.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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View from the tent platform,craft design,with North Face tent
A weekend visitor packs up his gear in the morning.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Modern deck with fireplace and the view of the Chichibu mountain range
Weekends at the retreat are relaxed, consisting mostly of chopping firewood or sitting around the fire pit on the deck.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Ishii Hideak in front of the Tent House gate
The dreadlocked Ishii Hideaki grins at the gate to the Kobayashi's property.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Bathroom with clawfoot tub and fiberglass door
The ultimate luxury: a hot bath in the clawfoot tub, with the fiberglass door open wide to the woods.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Landscape of  the Chichibu mountain range
Hideaki and Goo the dog scout the scene.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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Eco garden with solar arrays
A solar array (on the left-hand side of the photo) powers the lights and outlets (and laptops) during the day.
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Dean Kaufman 2010
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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.

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