A Pint-Sized Japanese Tiny Home Is Shaped Like a Milk Carton

A Pint-Sized Japanese Tiny Home Is Shaped Like a Milk Carton

The house may measure fewer than 600 square feet, but with an open plan, clever built-ins, and high ceilings, it shows that compact doesn't have to mean cramped.
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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."

The form of the 556-square-foot home in Tokyo that Tomoko Sasaki designed for her close friends inspired the name Milk Carton House.

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.

The front door of the home opens to an office, where a built in desk folds down to save space when not in use. The room features concrete floors and plywood walls.

When folded up, the built-in desk spans the width of the office.

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.

Sasaki designed a white-painted box-like insert just beyond the office. The volume holds two bathrooms and a utility room.

The bathrooms are wrapped in raw plywood that lends organic texture, warmth, and pattern to the interior.

A loft-style bedroom is set atop the white box-like insert.

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. 

Sasaki placed an open-plan kitchen, dining area, and living space on the second level. A flexible loft space is situated above the kitchen.

The living space steps up from the kitchen-and-dining area and features a plywood floor, ceiling, and walls.

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A skylight floods the second-story loft space with natural light.

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. 

The home's front facade features overlapping Galvalume panels that call to mind origami.

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."

The carton-like form and materiality give the home a distinctive appearance. 

Take a peak at these other tiny Tokyo homes: 

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

A Concrete Tiny House in Tokyo Opens to the Sky—and the Street 

Project Credits:

Architecture and Interior Design: Tenhachi Architect & Interior Design

Construction: Fuji Solar House

Structural Engineer: Tetsuya Tanaka

Photography: Akihide Mishima


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