In order to save a Meiji-period machiya in Kyoto's Higashiyama District, four friends pooled together their resources and had the two-level townhouse renovated and transformed into Shimaya Stays—two beautifully simple apartments that are now available for rent.
Traditionally home to merchants and craftspeople, a machiya is a type of Japanese wooden townhouse that originated in the Heian period and developed through the Edo and Meiji periods.
The city of Kyoto was once filled with such vernacular buildings, but today, close to two percent of its machiyas are being demolished every year.
The BenTen Residences by Shimaya Stays is a 1,650-square-foot machiya that's been restored and split into two apartments that measure around 800 square feet each.
After Lee Yong Chye, Gian Yi-Hsen, and Richard Tan (from Singapore) and Benjamin Lim (from Malaysia) brought together their resources to save the structure, Kyoto-based firm Asami Architects and Associates stepped in. They worked with builders Tsuji Workshop on the restoration and interiors.
The original wooden latticework on the front doors, along with the insect cage-style windows (known as mushiko-mado), timber floors, clay partitions, and baked-tile roofs were retained, while the interiors were updated with modern furnishings and fittings, including minimalist beds and tables made by local artisans.
The influence of ancient Japan can be felt throughout the apartments, thanks to the wood-beamed ceilings, bamboo details, tatami-floored rooms, fusuma sliding doors, and small landscaped courtyards.
A narrow street-level corridor leads to an open-plan dining, kitchen, and living area that looks out to a small Zen courtyard garden at the back of the townhouse.
In the ground level bathroom, guests can soak in a deep bathtub while looking out to views of the courtyard.
On the street-facing side of the apartments are Japanese-style sitting rooms that are ideal for light meals or meditation. In this sitting room, screens can be slid open to views of the street, or closed for privacy.
On the upper level is a bathroom, a bedroom with western-style beds and a dressing area, and a second bedroom with tatami floors and Japanese-style futon beds.
The fusuma sliding doors allow for changes in internal spatial configuration, where rooms can be closed off for a more cloistered, private setup, or opened to connect to other functional zones or to let more light in.