This Japanese-Style Box Home Boasts a Two-Story Bookcase

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By Sam Eichblatt / Published by Dwell
A couple creates a striking modern home designed around an ancient Japanese principle.

With its tall silhouette, narrow upper window, and blank face, this house in the Auckland suburb of Waterview could almost be a utility building, were it not covered in cedar weatherboards.

Architect Andrew Lister designed the wedge-shaped building for actor Yuri Kinugawa and film producer Owen Hughes, with a high ceiling stud, open-plan interior, and a deck flush with the ground floor, based on the principles of the Direct Compass, a Japanese discipline related to feng shui.

The building’s dimensions are simple yet very precise. "It is basically two boxes joined by a passage and a bathroom hanging off it," says Hughes. "It’s not a big house by any stretch of the imagination, but people think it is."

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Hughes’ collection of hundreds of books is stored on a vertiginous two story bookcase, which takes up the whole of the northern wall of the living room. It’s an ingenious solution to the small-space dwelling that draws the eye up, adding texture and interest to the room without taking up floor space.

 

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The central area uses the available space in a deceptively simple way. With the kitchen to the left and bedroom to the right, two offices are stacked above it and accessed by a stairway in the rear of the room. Family antiques and Japanese textiles composed of complementary textures turn what is essentially a boxy space into a welcoming home.

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In Direct Compass, the bedroom is considered central to family relationships, and is built overlooking a small zen garden on the house’s south side, as cool temperatures are believed to be beneficial for mental clarity. At Kinugawa and Hughes' residence, the bedroom is separated from the kitchen and dining area by a clearly defined, six-foot-long passageway marking the transition between public and private.

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The traditional Japanese bathroom is located just off the central passageway between the two parts of the house. The couple wash here before bathing and relax in the wood-lined onsen, or tub.

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While the house overlooks an estuary on its north side, little about the interior is revealed from the street-facing façade.

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In contrast with the house’s featureless street façade, the double-height glass wall facing due west is entirely open. With the doors slid back, there is no division between the living space and the veranda overlooking the garden, the estuary, and the harbor beyond, where the couple watch dramatic sunsets and occasionally spot dolphins.

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The home's Canadian cedar cladding and aluminium joinery is low-maintenance, and designed to weather gently over time. The natural finish blends well with the surrounding garden, with its sculptural, desert plants. “We face south-west, so the weather comes straight at us, and the wind is loaded with salt,” says Hughes. “Fortunately, the plants we liked don’t give a hoot about the wind.”