Traditional Japanese Home Becomes Modern Minimalist Interior

“I learned that within a living space, memory is the most precious material – more than any kind of physical material.”
- Naoyuki Tokuda

Japanese architect Naoyuki Tokuda got “the unique chance and rare opportunity” to renovate this traditional home in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, Japan: House in Sakura.


With ceilings ranging from 1.8 meters of height to 5 meters, there was space for a variety of different room conceptions and structures. Naoyuki used the opportunity to create a continuous theme of wooden ceilings, floors and walls. This results in a humble and warm atmosphere, combined with simple furniture and selected personal items. The resulting design is personal and individual, yet very appealing to outside viewers.

We sat down with Naoyuki to speak about his thoughts and ideas on the House in Sakura.

The PLUS: The interior is warm and humble. How did you create this atmosphere?
Naoyuki Tokuda:
An important point of this work was to decide which parts of the space needed to be dismantled and which should remain the same. I worked on these points very carefully. Also, I thought the old and new materials had to be blurred in a way that their border doesn’t show.


TP: Which kind of wood did you use for the interior and why did you choose it?
I wanted to create friendly place, not a luxurious one. I used Lauan plywood for the walls and ceilings. I also used the same Lauan timber for the doors and large window frames. This is a common material we could easily find in Japan.

TP: Furniture and fitting are mainly made of the same wood as the walls, floors and ceilings. What was your idea behind this?
I wanted to symbolise the space of pillars and beams using the light from the windows. I decided to blend the furniture with this space by using similar material. This way it does not disturb the symbol I tried to express. I also wanted to reduce the number of different types of material. The result is a clearer shape and size, emphasising the scale of space that I wanted to give each room while also achieving variety.


TP: What do you think about the simplicity of this design?
Simplicity of space helps to create a comfortable atmosphere where the presence of light is emphasised. In this house you are able to experience the diversity of light in the daytime. I worked hard to emphasise the existence of space itself. I drew the concept sketch as simple as possible and tried not to interfere with this sketch during the construction process.

TP: Memory and history related to the house played an important role in this project. How did this affect your design experience?
This project was a valuable experience for me. I could have erased all the memories of this house and made everything new. If I did, this space would have lost its depth. So I chose not do that. I learned that within a living space, memory is the most precious material, more than any kind of physical material. I will preserve the identity of a design not only for this kind of renovation work, but also for projects to come. The memory of the place will be reflected in the space by its own beauty and preciousness.


TP: You chose to maintain some personal elements for the client. How did you decide which to feature?
The shoji – a Japanese paper-covered sliding door – allows light to pass through softly and evenly. I planned to install veils along the window side to express it just like a shoji. This captures my intention to blend the old and new – the shoji and the veil – by having them exist in a similar way. Also, by breaking the existing ceilings and walls, the presence of remaining pillars is reborn in a new, longer and symbolic life. You can compare it to us existing because of our parents – it’s the ‘now’ between the past and future. I think this feeling is the key to the living space in which people feel comfortable.


TP: What do you think about introducing a contemporary design into a beautiful traditional building?
I think it is a very good thing. However, if you do not show respect for the tradition, it could diminish the success of the project. In Europe, there is a culture of taking care of old buildings and respecting them. I was touched a lot when I visited the Tate Modern museum in London a few years ago. I hope that people from Europe can sympathise with my concept, provided I’m not wrong with what I saw when I was there.


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