A Tree Grows in the Center of This Restrained Tokyo Home

A Tree Grows in the Center of This Restrained Tokyo Home

By Stacey McLachlan / Photos by Daici Ano
Minutes from the capital city’s urban bustle, an architect blends steel, wood, and concrete into a harmonious retreat for a family of five.

It’s just a ten-minute train ride from the famously crowded Shibuya Crossing, but this Tokyo home feels like it's miles away from the din of city life.

Because the house next door was built almost to the edge of the property, the only place a patio could get natural light was in the very center of the lot.

Designed by architects Keiji Ashizawa and Mariko Irie of Keiji Ashizawa Design, this modernist box in the residential Yoga neighborhood is a true oasis in urban Japan: A retreat from the world for a family of five. "They simply wanted a comfortable, beautiful everyday life," says Ashizawa. And armed with natural materials and thoughtful minimalist finishes, the architects have created just that. 

The south-facing entrance is tucked away from the road: visitors follow a path that snakes past the patio, past vertical lattice walls and into a cozy, cave-like corridor.

The first floor houses a storage room, guest room, gym and garage, all built around the lush inner courtyard.

Ashizawa’s background is in steelwork, so getting the staircase right was critical. It needed to be structurally sound, but not so big and bulky it would block the light from the patio. The clever use of a support rod in the middle of the structure allows for sturdy but lightweight steps.

The ground floor, built from concrete, provides a weighty base for the lighter steel and wooden volumes stacked on top. There’s truly a flow in this three-story, 4,187-square-foot structure, as you move from the airy lower levels into the quiet, intimate bedroom spaces upstairs. The entryway is dark and intimate—"like a cave," says Ashizawa. You’re drawn in by the light of the patio, as well as the sunshine pouring in from the second floor. 

"I always try to make a kind of rhythm for the space," explains Ashizawa. "Where to set the stairs, where to set the rooms...it should just feel like natural movement." 

The family of five who live here love the outdoors. The architecture of their home brings that nature in to every moment.

Ariake Dovetail barstools are tucked up at the kitchen island, which is finished with a Silestone charcoal soapstone.

An Ingo Maurer Flotation light hangs over the Keiji Ashizawa-designed kitchen table, which is lined with Carl Hansen chairs.

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Each level is connected by a shared view of a lush, green inner courtyard: A nod to nature perfectly suited to an active, wellness-focused family. "They love sports, hiking, and skiing, and wanted to have a quiet, natural feeling in the house," says Ashizawa. The monochromatic color palette is accented with raw concrete, quietly textured stone, and warm wood throughout. 

Ashizawa’s attention to detail goes beyond the architecture. His firm also designed much of the furniture inside the home, including the dining room table and the oak kitchen cabinets.

Climb the steel staircase from the first floor to the living, dining, and kitchen area, which open on to a small terrace with a private garden. On the top floor, rooms for the homeowners and their children are tucked away along with a bathroom illuminated by light from the courtyard.

An oversized sectional in the living room provides the perfect place for the whole family to kick back during movie nights. "The clients fought to have a big Italian couch," Ashizawa laughs. "I told them, ‘okay, but I get to choose the color.’" The soothing grey Minotti was the compromise.

A lattice made of ipe wood lines the patios and entryways, providing privacy without blocking the natural light or airflow. The sleek steel staircase is accessorized with a solid wooden handrail and oak plank steps. "Every day, they’ll touch the wood, which feels solid and nice," says Ashizawa. Over time, that railing will patina, becoming softer and more beautiful with age. 

The palette here is fairly neutral, with the greenery outside and wooden details providing warmth. "It’s almost monotone," says Ashizawa.

"From the city to the house, there’s a big gap. You need to have a space to adjust to the feeling," says Ashizawa. The long form of the entry corridor does just that, taking cues from Japanese temple architecture to create a moment of intimacy before the awe. "The house is lucky enough to have kind of a magical space."

The vertical lattice that surrounds the patio is made from ipe, a durable hardwood that will stand up to the elements throughout the years.

But the biggest nod to nature in the construction is a literal piece of it—the Nanaminoki tree planted in the centre courtyard, that little jewel box at the heart of the house. "They can just spend years and years watching it grow," says Ashizawa. 

"We wanted to connect their lifestyle to the design and the materials," says Ashizawa. The Nanaminoki tree and other plantings outside the wide windows bring a green into an otherwise minimalist palette.

With a view of the top-floor patio, the Fonte Trading bathtub offers a chance to bathe in natural light, too. Moristo One tiles line the shower stall.

The oversized glass sliding doors open up wide to connect the open-plan second floor with the intimate patio space.

Though the home is located in a dense residential neighborhood, the patio creates a buffer between the interior and the world outside, while still letting in light, greenery, and fresh air

The light at the end of the tunnel-like entrance draws visitors to the oversized slab-style front door.

Related Reading: These Serene, Minimalist Apartments in Tokyo Are Filled With Light and Nature

Project Credits 

Architect of Record: Keiji Ashizawa and Mariko Irie, Keiji Ashizawa Design / @keijiashizawadesign

Builder: Eiko Kensetsu / @eikou_kensetsu

Structural Engineer: Tetsuya Tanaka Structural Engineers 

Interior Design: Keiji Ashizawa, Mariko Irie, Keiji Ashizawa Design

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