Weekend Cabin: Karuizawa, Japan

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Although the “InBetween House” located 95 miles northwest of Tokyo, in Karuizawa, Nagano, looks like a hodgepodge of boxes, its design is anything but random. Five cottages are linked to one another through the creative use of space between them and sheltered via a connected roof. Each cottage is set 30 degrees or 60 degrees from its siblings, and as architect Koji Tsutsui put it, even the slightest change in angle changes everything in terms of relationship, view, and feeling.

Tsutsui worked with the owners to desgin a structure that mirrors the layout of the Japanese urban landscape, the dwellings set askew while the interstitials suggest the alleyways of the cities. Each measures approximately 11 feet by 21 feet apiece and, like the rooms in a traditional Japanese hours, is close to one another in proportion and size.

The Karuizawa area is dotted mostly with second homes, and much of the larch forest is owned by the imperial family. Previous owner of the 16,000-square-foot lot graded a level pitch on the steep hillside more than 30 years ago, then simply sat on the land. When the world economy cratered, they were forced to sell, and the new owners snatched up the build-ready site.

The driveway meanders through the woods and directs you into the first cottage, which is the garage. Moving clockwise, you walk through the kitchen/dining room, master bedroom, bathroom suite, and two guest rooms split over two floors. The layout puts a premium on space and light and, though not technically modular, also allows the owners to add more cottages relatively easily as their needs change.

Architects: Koji Tsutsui Architect & Associates

Photos: Iwan Baan

Weekend Cabin isn’t necessarily about the weekend, or cabins. It’s about the longing for a sense of place, for shelter set in a landscape…for something that speaks to refuge and distance from the everyday. Nostalgic and wistful, it’s about how people create structure in ways to consider the earth and sky and their place in them. It’s not concerned with ownership or real estate, but what people build to fulfill their dreams of escape. The very time-shortened notion of “weekend” reminds that it’s a temporary respite.

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