Tight squeeze: The secrets behind Japan's coolest micro homes
A tiny scrap of land might not catch your eye. But to Japanese architect Yasuhiro Yamashita of Atelier Tekuto, there's nothing more beautiful.
A veteran designer of kyosho jutaku -- or micro homes -- Yamashita has built more than 300 houses, each uniquely shaped and packed full of personality.
All starkly different, the only thing these homes have in common is their size -- Yamashita's projects start at just 182 square feet.
Demand for small homes in Japan results partly from land scarcity, property prices and taxes, as well as the impending danger posed by the country's regular earthquakes and typhoons.
But some residents simply prefer a smaller home, seeking a minimalist lifestyle.
"In Japan, there's a saying ('tatte hanjo nete ichijo') that you don't need more than half a tatami mat to stand and a full mat to sleep," says Yamashita. "The idea comes from Zen -- and a belief that we don't need more than the fundamentals."
Of course, the beauty of a well-designed micro home is that it doesn't appear 'fundamental' at all.
Below, Yamashita divulges 10 strategies to make petite properties feel more spacious.
Embrace the awkward
"Asymmetrical pieces of land can often be obtained cheaper than others. And it is an architect's job to work with the land and fulfill the client's request," says Yamashita.
"'Lucky Drops' -- a house in downtown Tokyo -- is a good example. It was a leftover scrap of land that was less expensive because of its irregular trapezoid shape. We had to be creative, but the result is beautiful. There's a saying in Japanese, that the last drop of wine is considered to be lucky. That's the inspiration."
Build towards the sky
"When you look at an area in 2D, it might seem very small -- perhaps the plot is just a few meters wide. But thinking in terms of volume, you can build the home higher and create more space. I try to make the house feel like it's extending upwards into the sky, so it's almost like the sky is part of the house. I also build high ceilings, so you don't feel cramped."
"In Japan, about 70% is mountains and forest and 30% of the land is rather flat, making it more suitable for residences and rice farms. Even so, we are not trying to fight against nature -- we're trying to live along with it. You can see this in the homes we design. Most of our homes incorporate natural materials and large windows to let in lots of natural light."
Think outside the box
"Instead of traditional square corners, I often cut the edges of the house into triangular shapes. This creates more surface area and more room for windows. There's always a corner open to the sky. That way, as the sun moves, the home is always filled with natural light."
"What you see informs 60% of your perception of a space. Imagine that you're inside an eggshell, with the same color and texture all over. There's no real start or finish, no real corners.
It is a visual effect that will make the space expand. I think that the color white makes spaces look larger, but I prefer to use the natural colors of materials rather than painting."
Use reflective materials
"To trick the eye, I use polished stainless steel features. They reflect light and make an area seem larger. In 'Reflection of Mineral,' for example, I used stainless steel in the kitchen and in the bathroom to make the space feel more expansive."
"People tend to accumulate a lot of things over time. I want it all to be hidden away, out of sight, so I build a lot of invisible storage inside the house. If you keep the area wide open and uncluttered, then it's hard for people to really comprehend the size of the space."
Stay close to home
"In the 20th century, architecture was meant for the masses, for the general public. Designs and buildings were constructed quickly and economically -- all with the same materials and same appearance. We were in an era of globalization and everyone wanted the same thing.
But now, people are looking to their own regions, their own local traditions for inspiration. That's where design is moving -- closer to home."
Invent new solutions
"I spend a lot of time developing new materials from what other people consider to be 'waste.' I'm like a garbage man. If I find materials that are not commonly used or have been discarded, then I get really excited.
If I can't find the materials that go along with the structure, then I invent a new one. For example, I was unhappy with the cement used for homes in Japan, so I worked with Tokyo University to develop a new type. Our recyclable Shirasu Cement is made from volcanic ash deposits."
Personalize your home
"A few factors affect my designs -- the specificities of the land, the way the light hits the property, the neighborhood, and the client's personal requests. A home is very personal. In 'Reflection of Mineral,' the clients wanted a strong, sharp-looking design. From there, I choose materials based on the design, depending on what would be best for the space."