A Platform for Living

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By Jaime Gillin / Published by Dwell
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.”

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.

A Platform for Living - Photo 1 of 28 - 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 Platform for Living - Photo 2 of 28 - A view of the mountains from the village of Kawakami, en route to the Kobayashis’ property.

A view of the mountains from the village of Kawakami, en route to the Kobayashis’ property.

A Platform for Living - Photo 3 of 28 - The long, lean Kobayashi complex includes a bathroom and storage room in the structure on the far right.

The long, lean Kobayashi complex includes a bathroom and storage room in the structure on the far right.

A Platform for Living - Photo 4 of 28 - 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.

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.

A Platform for Living - Photo 5 of 28 - The couple stockpiles wood under the deck.

The couple stockpiles wood under the deck.

A Platform for Living - Photo 6 of 28 - Translucent fiberglass panel walls form a permeable, fiber-reinforced plastic membrane between indoors and out.

Translucent fiberglass panel walls form a permeable, fiber-reinforced plastic membrane between indoors and out.

A Platform for Living - Photo 7 of 28 - Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi are ready for adventure.

Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi are ready for adventure.

A Platform for Living - Photo 8 of 28 - 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.

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.

A Platform for Living - Photo 9 of 28 - A view of the surrounding tree canopy.

A view of the surrounding tree canopy.

A Platform for Living - Photo 10 of 28 - Inside one of the Kobayashis' North Face tents.

Inside one of the Kobayashis' North Face tents.

A Platform for Living - Photo 11 of 28 - Scenes from a weekend in the woods feature many .......Research products, including camping cookware and striped wool blankets.

Scenes from a weekend in the woods feature many .......Research products, including camping cookware and striped wool blankets.

A Platform for Living - Photo 12 of 28 - 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"

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"

A Platform for Living - Photo 13 of 28 - Food is served in traditional camping cookware.

Food is served in traditional camping cookware.

A Platform for Living - Photo 14 of 28 - Setsumasa and Hideaki toss on the rain fly. The solar panel in the foreground supplies daytime electricity.

Setsumasa and Hideaki toss on the rain fly. The solar panel in the foreground supplies daytime electricity.

A Platform for Living - Photo 15 of 28 - A stockpile of wood sheltered from the elements.

A stockpile of wood sheltered from the elements.

A Platform for Living - Photo 16 of 28 - 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.

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.

A Platform for Living - Photo 17 of 28 - When the Kobayashis arrive, first step is unloading their truck.

When the Kobayashis arrive, first step is unloading their truck.

A Platform for Living - Photo 18 of 28 - Even in cold weather, they open the sliding doors to let the fresh air in.

Even in cold weather, they open the sliding doors to let the fresh air in.

A Platform for Living - Photo 19 of 28 - The building that shelters their bathroom also contains a large pantry and storage closet, filled to the brim with camping and outdoor gear.

The building that shelters their bathroom also contains a large pantry and storage closet, filled to the brim with camping and outdoor gear.

A Platform for Living - Photo 20 of 28 - A peek inside the bathroom, where a raised topographic map doubles as reading material and travel inspiration.

A peek inside the bathroom, where a raised topographic map doubles as reading material and travel inspiration.

A Platform for Living - Photo 21 of 28 - The yellow North Face tent looms over the top of the main building.

The yellow North Face tent looms over the top of the main building.

A Platform for Living - Photo 22 of 28 - Setsumasa Kobayashi reclines on a striped wool blanket from his 2010 'Horse Blanket Research' line.

Setsumasa Kobayashi reclines on a striped wool blanket from his 2010 'Horse Blanket Research' line.

A Platform for Living - Photo 23 of 28 - A weekend visitor packs up his gear in the morning.

A weekend visitor packs up his gear in the morning.

A Platform for Living - Photo 24 of 28 - Weekends at the retreat are relaxed, consisting mostly of chopping firewood or sitting around the fire pit on the deck.

Weekends at the retreat are relaxed, consisting mostly of chopping firewood or sitting around the fire pit on the deck.

A Platform for Living - Photo 25 of 28 - The dreadlocked Ishii Hideaki grins at the gate to the Kobayashi's property.

The dreadlocked Ishii Hideaki grins at the gate to the Kobayashi's property.

A Platform for Living - Photo 26 of 28 - The ultimate luxury: a hot bath in the clawfoot tub, with the fiberglass door open wide to the woods.

The ultimate luxury: a hot bath in the clawfoot tub, with the fiberglass door open wide to the woods.

A Platform for Living - Photo 27 of 28 - Hideaki and Goo the dog scout the scene.

Hideaki and Goo the dog scout the scene.

A Platform for Living - Photo 28 of 28 - A solar array (on the left-hand side of the photo) powers the lights and outlets (and laptops) during the day.

A solar array (on the left-hand side of the photo) powers the lights and outlets (and laptops) during the day.