10 Striking Homes Featuring the Japanese Art of Shou Sugi Ban

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Shou sugi ban—meaning "burnt cedar board" in Japanese—is a type of charred cedar named for the centuries-old technique of preserving wood through fire.

Though its exact origins are unknown, historians believe the method— which involves charring Japanese cedar with fire, brushing it, cooling it, cleaning it, and varnishing it with a natural oil—began in Japan around the 1600s or 1700s. It is a labor-intensive process, as it takes around seven minutes to char just three boards. 

Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori chars Japanese cedar boards.

Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori chars Japanese cedar boards.

Though shou sugi ban wood has a gorgeous, silvery finish and a crocodile-skin texture that makes it stand out from regular wood, reasons for charring it go beyond mere aesthetics. 

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Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori pours water to cool the boards.

Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori pours water to cool the boards.

Burning the top one-eighth inch of each wood board seals and protects the it against rain penetration and rot. Paradoxically, it also makes the wood fire resistant, so retardants won’t be necessary. The process also improves the durability, stability, and lifespan of the wood by preventing termite infestations and decay. 

Shou sugi ban boards are left to cool on the ground.

Shou sugi ban boards are left to cool on the ground.

This type of wood has been used in Japan for centuries, but it was only around the early 2000s—thanks, in particular, to a Japanese architect named Terunobu Fujimori—that it caught the attention of architects and designers outside the country.

Today, a growing number of architects are doing great things with charred timber. Though cedar is still the most common variety for charring, other varieties such as Douglas fir, cyprus, pine, or oak are also being used. 

We look at 10 homes that make mesmerizing use of the shou sugi ban technique. 

Terunbo Fujimori’s Charred Cedar House

Terunobu Fujimori's original Charred Cedar House exemplifies the respected architect’s ecologically-sensitive and energy-efficient approach to architecture.

Terunobu Fujimori's original Charred Cedar House exemplifies the respected architect’s ecologically-sensitive and energy-efficient approach to architecture.

A collaboration between London practice RDA Architects and prefab and modular builders Boutique Modern, this seven-module prefab is clad in shou sugi ban timber with fit-outs selected by the owner.

A collaboration between London practice RDA Architects and prefab and modular builders Boutique Modern, this seven-module prefab is clad in shou sugi ban timber with fit-outs selected by the owner.

Named ESCAPE One, this tiny 276-square-foot Park Model RV trailer has an exterior of shou sugi ban siding and light-colored pine wood interiors.

Named ESCAPE One, this tiny 276-square-foot Park Model RV trailer has an exterior of shou sugi ban siding and light-colored pine wood interiors.

With a textured skin of shou sugi ban, Michigan Lake House, designed by New York firm Desai Chia Architecture in collaboration with Michigan firm Environment Architects, dramatizes the play of light and shadows as the sun moves across it throughout the day.

With a textured skin of shou sugi ban, Michigan Lake House, designed by New York firm Desai Chia Architecture in collaboration with Michigan firm Environment Architects, dramatizes the play of light and shadows as the sun moves across it throughout the day.

Inspired by a barn, which is part of the same property, this house in Hudson Valley, New York, was constructed from structural insulated panels from Vermont Timber Frames and clad in charred cedar. 

Inspired by a barn, which is part of the same property, this house in Hudson Valley, New York, was constructed from structural insulated panels from Vermont Timber Frames and clad in charred cedar. 

Amsterdam architect Pieter Weijnen first discovered charred wood through the work of Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori. He later traveled to the Japanese island of Naoshima to observe the traditional technique. When he returned to Amsterdam, he did some DIY wood charring for the sidings and ceiling panels, which he used to build his own passive home— House 2.0. 

Amsterdam architect Pieter Weijnen first discovered charred wood through the work of Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori. He later traveled to the Japanese island of Naoshima to observe the traditional technique. When he returned to Amsterdam, he did some DIY wood charring for the sidings and ceiling panels, which he used to build his own passive home— House 2.0. 

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Designed as a series of modern box-like structures clad in charred wood, this modern family cabin is organized around views of the Alaskan landscape.

Designed as a series of modern box-like structures clad in charred wood, this modern family cabin is organized around views of the Alaskan landscape.

Designed by architect Sebastian Mariscal, the Wabi House in Southern Californian holds serenity inspiring features like a koi pond within its Shou Sugi Ban walls.

Designed by architect Sebastian Mariscal, the Wabi House in Southern Californian holds serenity inspiring features like a koi pond within its Shou Sugi Ban walls.

Another charred wood siding residence by Fujimori, the compact Coal House has a tearoom on the second story that's accessible from the exterior by a timber ladder, and from the interior by a secret door in the master bedroom.

Another charred wood siding residence by Fujimori, the compact Coal House has a tearoom on the second story that's accessible from the exterior by a timber ladder, and from the interior by a secret door in the master bedroom.

This Rhode Island home is composed of a a modernist box structure with an exterior of milled, charred, brushed, and oiled cypress slats manufactured by Delta Millworks.

This Rhode Island home is composed of a a modernist box structure with an exterior of milled, charred, brushed, and oiled cypress slats manufactured by Delta Millworks.