When architect Tomoko Sasaki, of Tenhachi Architect & Interior Design, was commissioned to design a house in Tokyo for a newly married couple who are both designers, she sought to create a space that would suit who they are now and the life they planned to build together in the future.
The couple share more than an occupational similarity with Sasaki—they are actually her close, personal friends, too. The husband is an "old friend—we studied at the same Architecture Laboratory and university. Now he designs hospitals," says Sasaki. She's known his wife since childhood. "We went to the same elementary school and have been friends since we were six years old," she says. "She’s now a clothing designer."
Because Sasaki’s friends are keenly focused on their design careers, it was important that they be located in the center of Tokyo. "They prefer this location because of their work," says Sasaki, who was given a very narrow lot to work with. "This is a very small house, but [it includes] workspace, storage, and a comfortable living space," Sasaki says. "I maximized the useable area [by employing] open-plan rooms without set functions that give the home flexibility and a cozy atmosphere."
The home features rooms with different levels and ceiling heights on each of its two stories. "While the spaces connect, they’re sometimes obviously visible to one another and sometimes they’re hidden from view," Sasaki says. The home’s entrance opens to a workspace with concrete flooring, a double-height ceiling with exposed beams, and large windows. A desk folds down from the wall near the window and can be folded up to preserve space. "I tried to blur the line between furniture and architecture. The house is like a single, useful piece of furniture," Sasaki says.
At the rear of the first level, Sasaki designed a white-painted box within the house’s larger volume. The structure is divided into two sections and encapsulates a guest bath, a master bath, a private utility space, and a pantry. Above the box is a small, loft-style bedroom area.
Sunlight pours in from a skylight and illuminates the first-floor corridor and staircase that lead to the second level, where Sasaki arranged a sunken kitchen and dining area. A small staircase connects the adjacent living room to a flexible loft space above the kitchen.
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The varying ceiling heights, floor levels, and loft areas that Sasaki arranged for the interior unfold in unexpected ways, supplying an origami-like quality for the interior. In an effort to link the interior to the exterior, Sasaki clad the home’s front façade in pale grey Galvalume panels set in a diagonal pattern. "The workers skillfully placed the panels as though they were folding pieces of origami," the architect says.
For however playful the pattern of steel on the front façade is, the house’s form is equally as engaging: The light-colored vertical rectangular volume is punctuated by a saltbox-style roof, giving the structure the appearance of a milk carton. "My friends named their home Milk Carton House," Sasaki says. "The diagonal patterns and the house’s figure create a new [architectural] face in the city. I’m so glad I was able to design this house for my precious friends."
Take a peak at these other tiny Tokyo homes:
Architecture and Interior Design: Tenhachi Architect & Interior Design
Construction: Fuji Solar House
Structural Engineer: Tetsuya Tanaka
Photography: Akihide Mishima
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