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Serene Japanese Small Houses

Many small houses in Japan today are a blend of simple and contemporary features within a limited area, with indoor and outdoor spaces that are harmoniously integrated. Natural light and airflow play crucial roles in the design of these homes, along with a valued connection to nature.

These small homes exemplify the principles of functionalism and minimalism, making them a source of inspiration for architects and designers around the world. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourite Japanese small houses featured on NTS, all showcasing these principles through thoughtful and considered design.

📍Love2 House, Tokyo

Architect: Takeshi Hosaka. Images: KojiFuji/Toreal

The single-storey Love2 House is at once striking and minimalist, deliberately designed to ensure sufficient space for the simple pleasures architect Takeshi Hosaka and his wife enjoy. Two curved metallic rooftops with a dynamic skylight immediately set the small house apart from its neighbours, providing a distinctive façade and addressing the need for both privacy and light. To further strengthen the connection to outdoor space and community, Hosaka installed a large glass door to create a natural extension of their front living area to the footpath.

What we love about the design:

  • Curved metal rooftops with skylights filtering in sunlight throughout the entire year
  • Open wooden terrace with outdoor bath and shower
  • Exposed concrete walls with custom built-in furniture
  • Stainless steel kitchen with a trolley on wheels, like ones used on aeroplanes

📍Flagpole House, Tokyo

Architect: Motoki Yasuhara. Images: Never Too Small

Aptly named after the shape of the site it’s built on, Flagpole House takes up two of the three levels the residence has. Despite its small size, the interior of the house is cleverly designed to make the most of the space available, along with being tailored to the owner’s needs.

The entrance hall converts into a flexible study area, which leads into a stainless-steel kitchen fitted with professional kitchen-grade equipment, displaying the owner’s love for cooking. A staircase provides open storage within the steps, leading upwards to a bedroom with a small loft reading area and a wooden bath on an outdoor deck.

What we love about the design:

  • Pigeonhole reading corner next to a skylight, accessed with a ladder
  • Outdoor wooden bath influenced by traditional Japanese onsens
  • Garden area to provide privacy with an interlocking fibre system
  • Extendable kitchen island with washing machine concealed inside

📍6 Tsubo House, Tokyo

Architect: Arte-1 Architects. Images: Kai Nakamura and Never Too Small

Designed for a young family of four wanting a house with a connection to the outdoors, 6 Tsubo House is beautifully arranged to feel functional and cosy even with the size limitations. To maximise the limited space, the architects staggered the rooms on the upper levels, allowing for a tall ceiling and extra storage space.

Separation between rooms was created through the use of different colours and materials, giving each area a unique ambience. The narrow house also features an atrium that extends up to the third floor, creating a café-like space that includes the living and dining room. A rooftop balcony has ample space for relaxing and entertaining, with custom wall panels that can be removed to create a bench seat or table.

What we love about the design:

  • Stainless steel full-size kitchen elevated to separate it from the living room, with underfoot storage space
  • Large velvet curtains concealing appliances and creating a “wall” 
  • Staggered levels with each one having a separate room and unique colour scheme
  • Atrium that maximises the vertical space from the 5m tall ceiling

📍F-House, Osaka

Architect: Kazuteru Matsumura from Coilkma. Images: Keishiro Yamada

Apart from cost-effective solutions and innovative storage spaces, the compact wooden F-House also has playful touches that personalise the home, including a uniquely placed rock climbing wall. This wall is one way to access the extra space in the high ceiling, turned into a playroom/storage unit. By using affordable curtains as room dividers and accommodating existing furniture, the architect was able to keep the renovation budget-friendly while creating a flexible, multifunctional space.

What we love about the design:

  • Different types of wood, including Yoshino cedar and Mukunoki (muku tree), to construct the house
  • Low-intervention solutions to zone out the open space, like moving furniture
  • Playful rock-climbing wall to access the loft
  • Budget-friendly velcro curtains used as room partitions, softening the space and providing acoustic insulation

📍House in Heguri, Kyoto

Designer: Yousaka Tsusumi of Arbol Design. Images: Never Too Small

Four towering wooden doors mark the entrance to the tranquil House in Heguri, a peaceful abode for a family of five. A covered porch leads to a combined living, dining, and kitchen space, illuminated with natural light filtering in from the narrow adjacent windows.

The main bedroom currently serves as a communal sleeping space for the entire family. By utilising futons, the room transforms into a multipurpose area during the day, keeping in line with the functionality prioritised in this design. Another bedroom, used as an office space for the time being, will be designated as the kids’ bedroom with a bunk bed when they get older.

What we love about the design:

  • Outdoor living area/porch that seamlessly integrates with the indoor spaces
  • Individual moveable doors that customise your experience when first arriving
  • Large kitchen island that doubles as a dining table, with different seating heights on either side
  • Multi-purpose rooms that can transform into a bedroom or double as an office

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