written by:
November 17, 2011
Originally published in Prefab Perfected

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.

Modern prefab kitchen with white walls and Eames lounge chair

A handful of modernist classics—an Eames Lounge, a Bubble Lamp by George Nelson, and a shell armchair from Modernica—kit out the living room and kitchen.

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Modern kitchen with white countertops and Eames lounge chair

From the kitchen and living room you’re well connected to the courtyard and the rest of the house. The trim and accents are white oak; the kitchen is by Leicht.

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Outdoor wooden deck central courtyard

Paul and Shoko stand on the ipe deck with their dog, Mei.  “At first, we really wanted an Eichler, but it just did not work out. But after seeing a few we knew we had to have a courtyard home,” says Paul.

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Exterior view of concrete building

The unadorned street-facing facade of the house belies the light, open, tranquil space inside.

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Kitchen counter with ceramics and teapot

Organization is critical in keeping the Tatami House’s minimalist vibe intact. Shoko keeps the kitchen drawers tidy.

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Cooking in the kitchen

Shoku enjoys cooking.

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Built-in wooden shelving units

The couple's collection of books, pottery, and carvings are displayed on built-in shelves in the office and hallways.

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Bookshelf with wooden bird sculpture

“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," says Paul.

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Modern home office with long floating shelves

Alex the Great

The custom white-oak desk that Kurath designed for the office ably houses both Paul’s and Shoko’s computers with support from a decidedly off-the-shelf source: Ikea. Paul replaced the casters on two Alex drawer units with short legs from an Ikea kitchen system. Tucked beneath the desktop, the standalone storage divides the desk into work stations, houses office sup­plies, and shows how high design plays well with a bit of DIY ingenuity.

ikea.com

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Organized kitchen cupboard

Hide Your Food Away

The aesthetic throughout the house is supremely uncluttered, and that goes double for the kitchen, which domi­nates the central public space. “My wife is the master organizer,” says Paul. “In Japan space is so tight, I think it is in their DNA.” The kitchen and wall-storage system by the German com­pany Leicht continues the muted design palette and conceals it all from the microwave to the dishes.

leicht.de

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Tilt-turn wood window-doors by hallway

Easy Breezy

A deft cross-ventilation system keeps things cool in the summer. A series of tilt-turn low-E wood window-doors by Swiss manufacturer Gautschi not only allows passage to the side yard and a bit of extra natural light but, when tilted down, permits breezes to pass through the house.

gautschi-ag.ch

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Removable panel for courtyard deck

Life Panel

Because the Japanese maple in the courtyard had to be planted before the ipe deck was laid, Kurath designed a small removable panel to allow access to the tree’s base. The Shozis can pull up the bit of decking to tend to the tree and replace it when they’re through. And because the boards line up perfectly, only the gardener need know it’s there.

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Modern wooden doghouse

In the Doghouse

Paul and Shoko's dog, Mei, has lucked into a small prefab home of her own. Making use of a water jet cutter at his office, and using Adobe Illustrator as his design tool, Paul fashioned a series of panels that slot together without any nails or screws.

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Outdoor front entrance with wooden door

The door to the house is actually on the side of the house, further adding to the sense of privacy the Shozis sought.

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Modern home office by the window

The pair of desks that Paul and Shoko work at in the office space look directly onto the courtyard. The concept for the design was to be able to see the sky from your seat at the desk.

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Modern bedroom with clean design

The pattern on the sheets (from Macy's house line) are one of the few breaks from the master bedroom's strong minimalism.

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Minimalist living room and kitchen

Though loads of natural light comes in from the courtyard, these large skylights also afford a view of the sky. The coffee table is from Modernica and the Eames Lounge is from Herman Miller.

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Wooden courtyard with maple tree

The Japanese maple gives the courtyard its peaceful character.

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Minimalist concrete panel housing

Here you can really see the tilt-up concrete panels that Kurath designed for the space. Each was made to be small enough to go up with a forklift. 

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Modern prefab kitchen with white walls and Eames lounge chair

A handful of modernist classics—an Eames Lounge, a Bubble Lamp by George Nelson, and a shell armchair from Modernica—kit out the living room and kitchen.

Project 
Shozi Residence
Architect 

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.

Modern kitchen with white countertops and Eames lounge chair

From the kitchen and living room you’re well connected to the courtyard and the rest of the house. The trim and accents are white oak; the kitchen is by Leicht.

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.

Outdoor wooden deck central courtyard

Paul and Shoko stand on the ipe deck with their dog, Mei.  “At first, we really wanted an Eichler, but it just did not work out. But after seeing a few we knew we had to have a courtyard home,” says Paul.

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.

Cooking in the kitchen

Shoku enjoys cooking.

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.

Built-in wooden shelving units

The couple's collection of books, pottery, and carvings are displayed on built-in shelves in the office and hallways.

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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