A Guide to Shou Sugi Ban and 8 Homes Featuring the Japanese Technique

The ancient Japanese technique of shou sugi ban was traditionally used to protect wood by charring it and leaving behind a thick carbonized layer of blackness—and it's currently enjoying a modern resurgence in the west.

Known as yakisugi in Japanese, shou sugi ban is a centuries-old technique that dates back to 18th-century Japan where it was primarily used to protect rural homes and warehouses from fires.  

The ancient process, which paradoxically actually makes the wood fire-resistant, is now gaining popularity in the west for its aesthetic appeal, endurance, and eco-friendliness. 

Although other types of wood are also being employed in the west, the technique was traditionally used with cryptomeria japonica, a species indigenous to Japan that's also known as Japanese cedar. The wood is charred, cooled, cleaned, and then finished with a natural oil, making it a natural way to preserve timber structures without using chemicals. Take a look at the helpful diagram below, as well as some of our favorite modern homes that feature the technique in action.

Lake Michigan Home Clad in Charred Cedar

The shou sugi ban exterior of this home overlooking Lake Michigan was inspired by the architects' exposure to the technique on a trip to Japan. Austin-based Delta Millworks treated the cedar, which was then used as cladding and as details throughout the interior. 

Desai Chia Architecture harvested plagued ash trees from their client’s property and used them to create interior millwork, flooring, and trim. Working in collaboration with local architect of record Ray Kendra of Environment Architects and Delta Millworks, the firm clad the dwelling’s exterior in cedar that was intentionally burned to protect it from fire, insects, and aging. 

Shou sugi ban was also employed throughout the interior of the home. 

Two Tiny Cabins in New Zealand

Rather than employing synthetic preservation methods, Cheshire Architects worked with an Auckland timber merchant to char the external faces of the boards with an improvised blowtorch system for a modern take on the traditional shou sugi ban process. It resulted in almost the same visual effect. 

Before building on the North Island of New Zealand, two friends spent years replanting the site. The 290-square-foot structures that Cheshire Architects designed for them reject the local trend of oversized beach houses. Instead, they sit on the landscape like a pair of minimalist sculptures.

A Shou Sugi Ban Trailer

The ESCAPE One is a 276-square-foot Park Model RV from a Wisconsin-based builder of tiny homes-on-wheels called ESCAPE. Resembling a minimalist cottage, the unit is complete with a stylish shou sugi ban exterior and simple pine interiors. 

A Park City Property With Shou Sugi Ban Exteriors

The dramatic exterior of this Utah home is clad in shou sugi ban, which contrasts with the clear red cedar soffits under the roof that appear to plummet and slice through the house.

Designed by Axis Architects and built by Benchmark Modern, the residence is sited to maximize sunset views. The location, just outside the historic district, allowed the homeowners to build a contemporary house, while still being close to the heart of town.

A Modular Prefab Studio in Austin

This modular prefab studio by Sett Studio in Austin, Texas, is sustainable, handmade, and inspired by shou sugi ban. As a result, they increased the durability of the wood and made it mold- and pest-resistance. It also made it more fire-retardant. 

In addition to charred-wood siding—shown here in the cherry stain—Sett Studio can also add decking and landscaping.

The charred-wood siding, inspired by shou sugi ban, comes in various stains, such as cherry (shown here). The blow-torching technique helps with resistance against insects, rot, water, mold, and fire.

Passive House in the Netherlands

This 2,500-square-foot passive house designed by Pieter Weijnen of FARO Architecten was built using a panelized system, meaning the parts of the house were delivered from a factory and assembled on-site. The shou sugi ban technique was employed as a sustainable feature for the facade. 

Along with the house's shou sugi ban front, the wood is layered with bright orange planks. Solar collectors, which consist of double-glass tubes that minimize heat loss, form a cornice on the front facade of the house. A wind turbine is on the roof.

A Passive House, "Sauna Tower," and Barn

Adding to a 19th-century barn that was brought to the property from a nearby farm, BarlisWedlick Architects designed the main house to be a soothing space that's clad in shou sugi ban. 

Located in New York's Hudson Valley, the main house is constructed from structural-insulated panels from Vermont Timber Frames and clad in charred cedar. 

An Atypical Modern Home in Southern California

The Wabi House, designed by architect Sebastian Mariscal, is an architectural achievement that was transformed from a typical rancher with a ceramic-shingle roof (after completely deconstructing it). It's complete with various shou sugi ban elements. 

While most of the ground level is given over to the large open living and dining area, it also includes a small pantry, office, and Japanese bathroom. An integrated Sub-Zero refrigerator is almost unnoticeable behind its charred-cedar cladding.


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