Residents of this contemporary home in Koriyama, Japan, squeeze out every cubic inch of storage, courtesy of a centuries-old design concept.
In traditional Japanese houses, clever carpenters often combined staircases with storage to maximize living space. This project in Fukushima Prefecture inspired Nihonmatsu-based architect Kotaro Anzai to borrow the approach and create a custom-built kaidan dansu, or staircase cabinet, to connect the living room to the second story of a 1,078-square-foot home. “We were able to create a clean, uncluttered space, but in a playful way,” says Anzai.
He gave the stairs a sleek, modern look by using attractive linden plywood for the main sections and sturdy ash for the treads. He then affixed number-shaped handles to help organize the cubbies. The residents, a thirtysomething couple, stash their favorite ceramic dishes and sake cups inside for easy access when friends stop by for dinner or drinks. However, Anzai didn’t design the cabinet to fit the couple’s existing pottery collection. “I started by designing a strong staircase and divided the remaining interior space into storage. The residents have gone out and found dishes to fit particular spaces. It’s their treasure chest,” he says.
CATCH A WAVE
An undulating wall made from over 40,000 dowels adds a dose of awe to a Massachusetts loft.
When John Matosky hired Merge Architects to upgrade his loft, it was a pretty standard project—renovate the existing lackluster bathroom, add a second bathroom, and build a bookshelf. But Elizabeth Whittaker, firm principal and an adjunct assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, saw an opportunity to do a little material research on how to create a three-dimensional wall.
Merge Architects wrapped the peg wall around three sides of a bathroom to hide a door and provide a storage for books and knick knacks.
“I built my practice out of making projects from non-projects,” she says. “John didn’t ask for this type of surface treatment, but we had some renderings, showed them to him, and he went for it.” For the bookshelf—essentially an oversized peg-board wall that wraps around a bathroom—Merge blends handcraftsmanship and digital tooling. These techniques are writ large through the repetition of an inexpensive, everyday object: the dowel.
High-tech fabrication meets low-tech in the end result. The architects modeled the gradation in Rhino, a computer program; calculated the precise length of each maple dowel needed to create each wave; CNC-milled the peg-board; and used elbow grease for the 80-hour final assembly. “It was literally peg, glue, stick in hole,” explains Whittaker
Using a computer program, Merge Architects calculated the precise length each dowel would have to be trimmed to create a three-dimensional wall.”The design concept was an elaboration and further research on another project we did called MiniLuxe—a series of Nail Salons—that just used the CNC cut panels as a flat surface to create a branding mechanism for their services,” says Whittaker.
AN AMERICAN BOOKSHELF IN LONDON
When Russian-born architect Andrei Saltykov designed his home in the UK, he put his love of the USA on the shelf.
Andrei Saltykov came up with the idea for his highly functional work of wall art after living in Washington, DC, while working on a building for Richard Rogers. He saw a map of the country made from license plates and eventually put the concept to use in his new house in London, the first project of his practice Saltykov & Lacey. American geography, it turns out, was just perfect for what he had in mind. “I thought about doing Britain or Russia,” he says, “but there weren’t so many sections, and the United States has lots of straight-lined divisions—great for holding books.” Showing off his library wasn’t Saltykov’s only aesthetic aim, though. Within the map he fastened 600 tiny Christmas tree lights that represent the nation’s major cities.
The shelf, which hangs in the living room, is also ideal for a geography lesson: Friends who have traveled recently to the USA chart their route through the country on it, and the architect reports using the map to educate his five-year-old daughter, Gina, about places in the States. And as for the far-flung 49th and 50th states, a shelf based on Hawaii hangs in the kids’ bathroom (each island is a hook), and Alaska is suspended in the upstairs bathroom over the tub.