Before & After: An Old Japanese Farmhouse Gets a Modern Facelift

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Once tied to a rice plantation, the renovated Shimotoyama House in Japan becomes a bright family home thanks to ALTS Design Office.

Outside the Japanese city of Ritto in the central Shiga Prefecture, a 53-year-old rice plantation farmhouse was renovated to carefully balance old and new. Koka–based ALTS Design Office was careful to preserve the original interior and exterior heritage elements of the existing building as they worked to open up, brighten, and modernize the home.

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The facade of the house in Ritto maintains traditional elements.

The facade of the house in Ritto maintains traditional elements.

Before

This classic Japanese room would receive a thoughtful renovation.

This classic Japanese room would receive a thoughtful renovation.

Before the renovation, the bedrooms lacked light and felt cramped.

Before the renovation, the bedrooms lacked light and felt cramped.

An old stairway connects the levels before the renovation.

An old stairway connects the levels before the renovation.

After

Staying true to the aesthetics of traditional, Japanese rural homes, architect Sumiou Mizumoto stuck with simple color and material choices. White and wood elements dominate pure, streamlined spaces.

Staying true to the aesthetics of traditional, Japanese rural homes, architect Sumiou Mizumoto stuck with simple color and material choices. White and wood elements dominate pure, streamlined spaces.

In traditional Japanese architecture, spaces are divided into "tsubos," a Japanese unit of floor area that’s the equivalent to approximately 35.58 square feet.

In traditional Japanese architecture, spaces are divided into "tsubos," a Japanese unit of floor area that’s the equivalent to approximately 35.58 square feet.

This 7,072-square-feet, two-story house consists of 80 tsubos, which were re-organized to accommodate modern living.  

This 7,072-square-feet, two-story house consists of 80 tsubos, which were re-organized to accommodate modern living.  

The firm’s founder and principal architect Sumiou Mizumoto stripped away the house’s side extension.  

The firm’s founder and principal architect Sumiou Mizumoto stripped away the house’s side extension.  

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Mizumoto transformed one of the original Japanese-style rooms into a garden that references the house’s past as a rice field farmhouse.

Mizumoto transformed one of the original Japanese-style rooms into a garden that references the house’s past as a rice field farmhouse.

Glass takes the place of paper in the shoji screen-style doors that close and open to separate and connect the different functional zones.

Glass takes the place of paper in the shoji screen-style doors that close and open to separate and connect the different functional zones.

A study area on the second level looks down to the first level.

A study area on the second level looks down to the first level.

By weaving together traditional, Japanese-style rooms in more modern configurations, Mizumoto created a home that exudes plenty of historical charm while suiting the needs of a modern family.

Elements from traditional Japanese architecture such as warm wood, exposed beams, and shoji screen-style sliding doors characterize the home.

Elements from traditional Japanese architecture such as warm wood, exposed beams, and shoji screen-style sliding doors characterize the home.

The architects installed modern, floating stairs with a wooden tread and steel railings.

The architects installed modern, floating stairs with a wooden tread and steel railings.

Some of the Japanese-style rooms were retained and restored.

Some of the Japanese-style rooms were retained and restored.

The living and dining rooms were updated.

The living and dining rooms were updated.

Glass panels brighten up and modernize the interiors.

Glass panels brighten up and modernize the interiors.