Into The Woods
Benjamin Budde -- Interior Design, 1/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
The pertinacious ability of outside stresses to sneak into the sanctuaries of our own homes is a truth all too present for the modern everyman. Tomoyuki Utsumi, principal of Milligram Architectural Studio, understood these pressures and responded accordingly when he was asked by a Tokyo industrialist to design a mountainside family getaway.
The house is in Karuizawa, a resort town that attracts tony Tokyoites for its convenient remoteness: It can be reached in an hour via bullet train. Located at an altitude of approximately 3,500 feet, Karuizawa also offers a cool climate during the summer, when Tokyo is oppressed by the subtropical heat.
Utsumi's idea for the house began with a kite-shape roof. "In traditional Japanese architecture, the roof is one of the most important elements," he explains. "In modern Japanese architecture, the roof rarely receives much attention, often because it's difficult to give it any when building on small sites in big cities." In the country, Utsumi had the space to be creative. He even cut out a round hole in the roof to let a venerable cypress past—part of his mission to preserve as many trees as possible on this site of just under 1 acre.
Partially supported by stilts, the 3,700-square-foot structure is positioned precisely in relation to the gently sloping site. The roof is highest at the entrance, then slants downward the farther you go inside. This angle makes itself felt most clearly in a combined living-dining area and kitchen that "encourages conversation," Utsumi says.
With no walls, furniture creates function areas. Utsumi treated the kitchen island like a piece of furniture, too. Its walnut base has rows of drawers that wouldn't look out of place on a bedroom's dresser. (The counter, however, is gleaming stainless steel.) The dining area, directly opposite, is defined by nothing more than a rectangular table and high-backed chairs, all cherrywood. At the rear of the long space, only a low gray sectional tells you that you're in the living area.
This large, unbroken volume is unified by Utsumi's use of wood. Flooring is also cherry, the sloping ceiling spruce. In the dining area, a pine-framed glass door slides open to the rear deck, built with a Malaysian hardwood.
The ceiling is spruce again in the master bathroom, which offers a stunning contrast between interior intimacy and the grand expanse of forest unfolding beyond a floor-to-ceiling window. Utsumi had the room completely framed in before considering the placement of the plumbing—an unusual approach that's actually common for him. "After the skeleton was finished," he explains, "I went and stood where I thought the tub should go, then considered the view and how to finish the windows."
Stone—stacked sandstone, to be exact—enters the picture with a wall that backs the living area and separates it from a media room, down three steps to compensate for the lowness of the roof at the rear of the house. When the family wants to watch a movie, a screen descends in front of the sandstone slabs. When it's up, it reveals a fireplace set into the wall.
There's a freestanding fireplace in the foyer. In a niche in a corner of the living area stands a tall Belgian antique stove. "The owner is one of those people who's calmed by the light of a flickering fire," Utsumi remarks.
Perhaps it's a man's second home that's really his castle.