A Platform for Living
By Jaime Gillin / Published by Dwell
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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.

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 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.

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.

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.

The couple stockpiles wood under the deck.

The couple stockpiles wood under the deck.

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.

Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi are ready for adventure.

Setsumasa and Mami Kobayashi are ready for adventure.

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 view of the surrounding tree canopy.

A view of the surrounding tree canopy.

Inside one of the Kobayashis' North Face tents.

Inside one of the Kobayashis' North Face tents.

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.

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”

Food is served in traditional camping cookware.

Food is served in traditional camping cookware.

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 stockpile of wood sheltered from the elements.

A stockpile of wood sheltered from the elements.

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.

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

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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 weekend visitor packs up his gear in the morning.

A weekend visitor packs up his gear in the morning.

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.

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.

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.

Hideaki and Goo the dog scout the scene.

Hideaki and Goo the dog scout the scene.

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.

Details
Project: Kobayashi Residence

Jaime Gillin

@jaimegillin

When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.

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