A Gigantic Staircase Sweeps Through the Heart of This Tokyo Home

A Gigantic Staircase Sweeps Through the Heart of This Tokyo Home

By Luo Jingmei
A surreal, larger-than-life staircase adds next-level functionality to a home in Minato, Tokyo.

While conceiving this Toyko home, Nendo founder Oki Sato sketched an immense staircase cutting through a cuboid building. This gesture gave the Stairway House its moniker—and the final product barely differs from the sketch. The residence by the multidisciplinary design studio combines poetic thought, simple gestures, and precise execution.

The house stands in the shade of mature trees that grow in the courtyard.

Each of the projects in Sato’s oeuvre—which runs the gamut of objects, branding, furniture, and architecture—contains a good dose of wit. As such, this house may be minimal in form, but it is certainly not austere. Using uncomplicated expressions simply helps Sato communicate his messages clearly.

Across from the third-story study room, the master bedroom is furnished with Fritz Hansen PK22 loungers by Poul Kjaerholm and a round, black Marquina mable Ballerina coffee table designed by Nendo for Marsotto Edizioni.

An aerial view shows the neighborhood’s density and the relationship of the house with the lane in front of it.

The Stairway House was designed for Nendo’s Chief Operating Officer, Akihiro Ito. He lives here with his immediate family, his parents, and the latter’s eight cats. The home nestles within a dense residential suburb, and the architecture both distinguishes and integrates the project within its site. From the street to the north, the house is a bone-white, windowless box—an aberration in the neighborhood of nondescript dwellings.

The home’s north face is an abstract alabaster box with just a sliver to provide light into the interiors.

From this vantage, the home’s exterior does little to suggest the scale and identity of conventional residential architecture. However, at the south side, the house opens up with an entirely glazed facade. A rigid white grid delineates the home’s three stories.

The expansive steps in front of the house grant it a public character.

This one-sidedness is deliberate, and it provides the interiors with ample daylight and views of greenery. The home is set back from the boundary to preserve a persimmon tree that has stood on the grounds for generations

The staircase steps straight through the facade’s metal grid, establishing a connection between the home’s interior and exterior.

The parents’ living room is graced by an elegant Fritz Hansen PK80 chaise lounge, and it has a view of the generations-old persimmon tree.

In the forecourt, a large, ashen staircase rises from the earth, cuts through the glass facade, and continues into the house. The stairs are directly aligned with a long lane at front of the site, which provides the house with a deep view into the neighborhood.

From the long lane in front of the house, the transparent facade puts the focus on the staircase.

The view from the third-story study across to the master bedroom.

Inside, the staircase terminates at a skylight, establishing a strong indoor/outdoor relationship that is exhibited throughout the building. "The idea was to connect the upper and lower floors, as well as the inside and outside of the house. I wanted this connection to be gentle, so I developed the step-like object," says Sato.

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The building is set back from the boundary to create a generous forecourt, where the staircase’s many uses can be enjoyed.

The staircase is a dominant feature in the home, and it has multiple functions. The steps that extend outside the house serves as outdoor furniture, where the family can sit and contemplate the neighborhood’s comings and goings. The filigree of surrounding trees contribute pleasant shade for this activity.

Glass walls preserve clear sight lines across the rooms.

For the feline occupants, the staircase is a playground, culminating in a lavish, sun-washed roof deck. For the elderly mother, it is an unconventional spot for potted plants where she can indulge her gardening hobby without having to step outside.

The steps can be easily accessed from the first floor, where the client’s mother keeps potted plants.

A plaster finish gives the staircase a homogeneous quality, so that it reads as a singular object. The rest of the interior is kept simple, with a monochromatic tonality, however oak floorboards warm up the space and keep it from feeling sterile.

The first-story study is a dynamic double-height space with a full view of the grown trees in the courtyard. The Twig armchair designed by Nendo for Alias has an equally vertical design language.

The subtle front door blends seamlessly into the staircase. It leads to the first story, where the client’s elderly parents stay so that they don’t have to walk up many flights of steps.

Unlike conventional houses, there is no front door in sight. The occupants enter the house via a subtle opening at the side of the staircase, which connects to the parents’ first-story abode.

Under the main staircase is a shaded secondary stairway.

Storage and services are tucked under the staircase, while a secondary flight of steps hidden within its larger counterpart leads to the younger family’s living/dining room and study on the second story, and bedrooms on the third.

A bathroom tucked beneath the stairway has a cavernous quality. Everything—down to the toilet and Hansgrohe AXOR faucets—has the same charcoal shade.

The central volume functions like an atrium, funneling light and breezes throughout the house. Here, the staircase functions on both a symbolic and pragmatic level, providing an alternative—and fun—mode of traversing the house vertically.

The dining table is paired with N01 dining chairs by Nendo for Fritz Hansen. The chairs are assembled from 23 wooden pieces.

The custom-built dining table can flip up to accommodate additional seating.

The dining area and kitchen can be separated by door panels when necessary.

During the day, the staircase appears to disappear when viewed from outside due to the glazing’s reflectivity. At night, the box glows and the staircase appears to quizzically end in a square of light at the roof, which perpetuates its otherness.

At night, the staircase appears to sweep upward to a celestial destination.

The lush forecourt is a green lung in the dense suburban neighborhood.

While many architects look to grandiose gestures as an end in themselves, the dynamism in Sato’s architecture stems from reevaluating basic components.

"I see design as being not about objects themselves, but the spaces between them. I’m inspired by overlooked things—like the gaps between floorboards. When you see normal things in a different way, they seem non-ordinary," he mentioned in a former interview. 

The staircase provides novel opportunities for indoor/outdoor interaction.

Sato’s study and use of proportion, shape, and structure over superficial decoration reflect his keen understanding of human habits. The end result modifies—in both subtle and bold ways—the way occupants interact with space, adding a spark of the extraordinary to the humdrum activities of domestic life.

More from Nendo:

Nendo and BoConcept Collaborate on a Line of Furniture 

Nendo Takes Over MADProjects Gallery 

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Nendo / @nendo_official

Design Team: Oki Sato, Ishibayashi Noritake, Tsubasa Shindo, YSLA

Builder: Mizusawa Komuten Inc

Structural Engineer: yAt Structural Design Office LLC

Landscape Designer: SOLSO

Lighting Designer: ModuleX Inc.

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