Looking Inward

Originally published in 

For Paul and Shoko Shozi, a pair of retiring Angelenos, the goal was to shut out the neighborhood but bring in the sunny skies. Their new prefab home, the Tatami House, designed by Swiss architect Roger Kurath of Design*21, makes a central courtyard the physical, and maybe even the spiritual, center of the home. On a fine Marina del Rey morning, Paul shows us around.

Shozi Residence

During our house hunt in and around Los Angeles, we discovered the Eichler homes in Granada Hills and in Orange County, many of which have a court­yard layout. At first we really wanted an Eichler, but it just did not work out. But after seeing a few we knew that we had to have a courtyard home. We’re pretty private, so it was important that we had a home that faced inward. We didn’t want to open our curtains or blinds and see the neighbors.

When we were looking for a home we stumbled upon a building Roger Kurath of Design*21 had remodeled in Marina del Rey. We had never heard of him, but we took a look at his other projects, and his style really matched our taste. Shortly afterward, we found a lot nearby and hired Roger.

We gave him a list of our wants during our first meetings. The top three were a courtyard, a nice office, and an open kitchen. The design actually didn’t change much from Roger’s original concept. Some walls were moved and bathroom layouts changed, but it is pretty much the same. Our courtyard is one of the most important elements of the house. It provides lots of natural light and constant views of the sky from the “public” spaces— the kitchen, dining room, living room, and office—around it. The courtyard also goes with the traditional Japanese concept of bringing the outside in.

Actually, prefab was not on our minds when we started. It was Roger who presented the idea to us and we were intrigued by his take. Instead of the whole house being prefabricated and arriving on the bed of a truck, only the exterior walls were. The wall panel formwork was laid on top of the foun­dation slab and the prefabricated metal stud walls laid into the prepared formwork, then two-and-a-half inches of concrete was poured in. After that was set, the wall panels were lifted with a forklift (Roger designed it this way to avoid using a crane) and set into place.

We elected to go for it to save time and money—though it took the builder longer than expected to set up the walls, extending construction time a lot. But going prefab did provide other important benefits: The concrete panels do a great job of blocking the sounds from the outside, we get great thermal benefits during the summer and the winter, and aesthetically, I’ve always liked the look of raw concrete.

The house is mainly designed for my wife, Shoko, who spends a lot of time here. She works from home doing all sorts of handcrafts—sewing, cross-stitching, embroidery, and crocheting, to name a few—so the office space was really important. The goal was to create a studio for her where she’ll have enough desk and table space to lay out fabric, access her library of craft books, work on her computer, and store her supplies. There is even enough room for a sofa so she can take a break and relax.

Since most of my time is spent working away at an office [in the design department of an entertainment firm], I only need a little desk at home. I’m a big movie watcher and video-game player so the master bedroom is my man-cave on the weekends. It’s one of the few rooms where I can close the door and turn up the speakers and not disturb my wife in the office.

We are slowly populating the house with the stuff we’ve collected over the years: Shoko’s extensive book collec­tions, our old Polaroid cameras, locally handblown glass pieces that add some color around the house. We have little to nothing on the walls right now, but eventually we will find art or blow up some Polaroids. We’re taking a “slow-life” approach to decorating, putting things up at an easy pace and not stressing about having to fill a wall just because it’s blank.

Because we like the clean look—white drywall, white cabinets, white oak on the windows and shelving to give a needed amount of warmth—it was important we had some form of nature in the courtyard. We chose a single Japanese coral maple tree, which is in the physical center of the house. It is only about six feet tall now, but we plan to let it grow to about ten to 12 feet to fill out the space and provide a nice canopy. Part of our enjoyment of this place will be experiencing the tree’s growth as we live here for many years to come.

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