C/steel Apartment, Tokyo

With the design of his Tokyo apartment, architect Yutaro Ohta wanted to “not only experience the Sumida River as a landscape, but also to incorporate it into the interior”. Ohta’s original design translates the natural beauty and industrial aesthetic of the river and its surrounding infrastructure into a peaceful home defined by its exposed materials. His cat, Sumomo, seems to like it too.

Opening up the Footprint

Set in the Ryogoku area of Tokyo, near the Sensoji Temple and Tokyo Sky Tree, Ohta’s apartment building was constructed in 1990 and featured typical 1 LDK layouts — a term used in Japan to refer to one-bedroom apartments with living, dining, and kitchen areas. His first order of business was to remove the walls, transforming the 48sqm/516sqft footprint into a more open one with flexible-use zones. The bathroom, set in the centre between the kitchen and entryway, adds an intriguing visual feature and offers a welcome divide between the work- and living-oriented areas.

Augmenting Natural Beauty

The Sumida River, one of Tokyo’s main arteries since the Edo period (1603–1868), is visible from essentially everywhere in the apartment — including the shower. Ohta leaned into the river’s omnipresence, augmenting its natural beauty in his design through his choice of materials. Plywood, in particular, was selected for the floors, walls, and certain furniture because of its interesting contrast to the light refracted by the river. The exterior walls of the bathroom (with the exception of the acrylic window looking into the shower and tub) were finished in a buffed steel that helps carry the natural light into the deeper recesses of the apartment.

Expose it

These material choices are complemented by the space’s overarchingly raw and industrial look. The kitchen is a prime example of this, featuring plywood cabinets and floating shelves set against a partially painted concrete wall as well as an exposed pipe that, Ohta notes, looks as if it “extends into the river”. The more practical benefits of this style include the additional space it created in the entryway for shoe storage within the exposed pillars, the electrical piping that doubles as a hanger for clothing, and the fact that Ohta doesn’t need to worry about damaging the surfaces when working on DIY projects.

 Designing for the Atmosphere

Translucent plastic curtains, chosen for their resemblance to the surface of a river, were added throughout the apartment as a tool for hiding storage, closing off rooms, adding privacy, or simply changing the mood. The sleeping nook, for example, which is just off the kitchen, can be completely or partially enclosed without obscuring the flow of natural light into the rest of the space. This makes sense given that, for Ohta, “the most important thing when designing a small space is to create a design that allows you to feel the atmosphere of the room as much as possible”.

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Images by Masaki Hamada and Never Too Small