Little Boxes: Part 3

Small homes from overseas and their tiny kitchens and baths
By Ellen Sturm Niz
December 02, 2010

Editor’s note: After a quick survey of home-grown “Little Boxes” in both rustic and contemporary styles, as promised, this installment looks abroad to England and Japan, where the Small House Movement is helping to resolve serious housing and space issues.

This micro-building from Dwelle Co. in Manchester, England, is the company’s answer to the problem of the high cost and limited options available in British housing. These small dwellings, branded as “dwelle,” can easily be adapted to suit a wide variety of uses. Although the overall building is very small, the size of each space within is generous and provides a very practical and efficient layout. Adequate storage space is a high priority for most homeowners, so dwelle.ing offers the potential of having more than 9 cu. m of concealed storage space, including plenty of kitchen cupboards and a recessed shower room cabinet. The compact nature of a “dwelle.ing” means it treads lightly upon the environment, both in construction and in operation. Its heating and ventilation systems and the materials and finishes throughout the house promote healthy living. The typical total cost of a standard dwelle.ing is affordable, with options for customizing the interior and exterior that range from basic to high-end, depending on budget.

Specifically to make the kitchen more efficient, Dwelle has just increased the overall length of the house by 600 mm (external dimensions are now 4.3 m x 8.8 m), according to director Richard Frankland. The new dimensions of the kitchen (3.6 m x 2.6 m), allow for the corner units to be fully utilized and a combined full-height fridge freezer, which is more energy-efficient. As a result of the home extension, the shower room also has become larger and can now provide a full-height storage unit, as an optional extra. The width of the bathroom was always important, said Frankland, to allow a good sized shower tray across the full width of the room—and the option of a wet room if desired. The concealed cistern and wall-hung WC ease cleaning and provide for a large storage cupboard behind the mirror directly in front of the wash basin. Sanitary fittings are all have a flow limiter.

Tokyo architect Yasuhiro Yamashita of Atelier TEKUTO is one of Japan’s leading designers of kyosho jutaku, or ultra-small homes. Crowded cities and scarce living space have led the Japanese to live in humble abodes, but in recent years, pioneering Japanese architects like Yamashita have found incredibly creative ways to adjust to space constraints. Yamashita takes advantage of new materials and building technology—using visual tricks that make tiny rooms appear roomier—to create unique home designs on small plots of land. Tossing aside traditional windows and constraints like symmetry, these micro-homes are livable works of art. (Photo Credits: Cell Brick, Lucky Drops, and Magritte’s: Makoto Yoshida. Penguin House: Takeshi Taira. Yachiyo : Toshihiro Sobajima.)

[1] Cell Brick. Sitting on fewer than 500 sq. ft., this three-story micro-house in Tokyo is constructed of piled up steel boxes with openings that become windows. Each block’s given depth blocks out the summer sunlight and pulls in the winter sun into the house. The walls, floors, countertop and even the kitchen table are made entirely of pre-cast concrete. To avoid making a dull space, the interior wall is made in multiple layers to give a sense of depth. The steel boxes also serve as storage space. A view of the bathtub from the spiral staircase showcases how open sight lines in the home are used to make the space appear roomier.

[2] Lucky Drops. Designed for an extremely small and oddly shaped plot of land just 40 ft. wide, this long, narrow home outside Tokyo features skin-like transparent external walls that let sunlight permeate the entire building. Yamashita named this house “Lucky Drops,” the equivalent to an old Japanese saying for “the best for last,” because of his effort to turn this leftover plot of land into a place of living comfort. Much of the home’s living space is underground on the most spacious floor, where the width was not dictated by the size of the plot. Yamashita used expanded metal as the floor material, letting sunlight fall deeper underground and illuminate the underground space.

[3] Magritte’s. Named for the Belgium surrealist artist, Magritte’s design motif is that of a gravity-defying concrete block. The home, situated in the middle of Tokyo, is on a 150 sq. ft. plot of land. The homeowners, a married couple in their thirties, wanted every part of the house to be made of concrete, even the bathtub, but for cost reasons had to settle for a traditional fitting. The walls, floors, kitchen counters and dining table are concrete, however.

[4] Penguin House. A manipulation of light and space makes this house in Tokyo seem much larger than its 899 sq. ft. of floor space. Set on a 322 sq. ft. corner lot, the window-enclosed third floor contains the combined living room and kitchen. Corners of the house were cut out and replaced with windows to let in light and frame surrounding trees, as seen in the bathroom.

[5] Yachiyo. Yachiyo is a Japanese word meaning “a long time,” and the goal of this house was to make 100-year-old materials last another 100 years. Timbers from century-old warehouses serve as the frame of the home, which is located about 30 ft. from the ocean in Hayama, Japan. In contrast to its history-rich exterior, the home’s bath is white and modern.
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