Inspiration

A Harmonious Method for Modernity in This 100-Year Old Home

Compared to the energetic buzz of Tokyo, the city of Kyoto still operates at a satisfyingly measured hum, retaining much more than a veneer of the country’s deep seated traditions, crafts, and history. It is a city where heritage still survives in spite of the encroachment of contemporary conveniences and technologies, and where the history of many businesses can be measured in decades…or even more than a century.

MAKHNO Studio, a Ukrainian studio dedicated to contemporary Ukrainian architecture, interior design, and ceramics, was tasked to thoughtfully update a section of a century-old house in Kyoto in respect to this enduring spirit of ancient Japanese culture – to carefully add “a drop of Ukrainian color to the Japanese context.”

Owned by a family with children, the century-old KYOTO HOUSE still wears a discernible degree of its traditional heritage as exhibited by the rooms’ textured clay wall surfaces, original tatami mats, shoji screens, and a floor plan optimized for furnishings situated closer to the ground. The family uses this section of the home to stage traditional tea ceremonies and accommodate for overnight guests. The challenge presented to MAKHNO Studio was finding the gentlest path toward restoration, utilizing only touches of modernity with a conscientious care to maintain its historic ambience.

Wassily armchairs and small side stools set across tatami flooring with sliding rice paper partitions and windows nearby, with numerous contemporary and traditional ceramic pieces decorating a nearby storage shelf.

A pair of Wassily Chairs by Marcel Breuer for Knoll on paper may seem incongruous with the traditional Japanese elements, but placed thoughtfully as visual bookends, the seamless tubular frame and black leather blends pleasantly into its introduced setting.

Golden gilded folding room screen decorated in traditional Japanese flower painting in background, with Wassily armchairs and small side stools near the front of the photo with tatami flooring throughout.

The interior is characterized by its “shoin-zukuri” or “study style” detailing with origins spanning back to the dwellings of Zen monks and samurai of the 15th to 16th centuries, an architectural modus vivendi identified by rooms incorporating rice paper partitions and shoji sliding doors.

Traditional Japanese futon with ornate reclaimed wood headboard across tatami floors with wall-sized gilded and art decorated folded room screen.

Three modern zoomorphic ceramic sculptures set across small antique Go boardgames playing table.

Red lotus leaf shaped lacquer tray with small cups and tea ceremony preparation items set across old weathered side table with small Buddha sculpture nearby.

Small vertical bamboo partition connecting the home's entryway into the other sections of the guest tea house.

Japanese woman in traditional kimono kneeling with traditional Japanese tea ceremony bowl, whisk and scoop in front of her on tatami mat and lone candle to the right dimly illuminating the room's corner. Partially shade covered view of surrounding garden is visible.

Japanese woman in traditional kimono kneeling with traditional Japanese tea ceremony bowl, whisk and scoop in front of her on tatami mat.

New elements of Ukrainian aesthetics were introduced to interplay with the original elements, including Ukrainian zoomorphic ceramics, plates, and earthenware by MAKNO Studio’s own Slavko Odarchenko, paintings by artist Oleksandr Babak, as well as traditional and modern Japanese graphics. The additions are subtle, with the sum of its effect upon the entirety of the space communicating the home operates not as a museum, but as a usable space aware of the present.

Abstract splattered brush stroke modern art painting by Oleksandr Babak in black and red hanging over a collection of Japanese calligraphy paintbrushes suspended by hook on stands across small surface dedicated to calligraphy.

Abstract splattered brush stroke modern art painting by Oleksandr Babak in black and red hanging from darkened corner of a room.

Calligraphy paintbrushes set to the left of a well worn paper journal.

The waves of time left traces on [the home], making it unique. Therefore, when reconstructing it, it was important not to destroy these feelings, but rather to refine and enhance them by adding a drop of Ukrainian color to the Japanese context.

Entryway cabinet decorated with traditional Japanese artwork, scrolls, and small objects of decor set across black tile floor, sliding rice doors to the right and bamboo partition to the left.

A wall filled with the collection of Japanese artistic ceramics from different schools and periods in the background with floor seating and table for two in the foreground.

A minimalist ikebana arrangement of seasonal plants is placed as an embodiment of the principles of wabi and sabi: an appreciation of the beauty inherent in the transience of time.

Detail of shelf filled with numerous Japanese ceramic bowls and small DIDO ceramic sculpture designed by MAKHNO Studios.

Detail shot of traditional Japanese hanging teapot, with garden views in the background.

MAKHNO Studio's Serhii Makhno on his stomach across a tatami floor interacting with a traditional Japanese hanging teapot, with garden views in the background.

Overhead shot of traditional Japanese wood boxes, a large stone, and small lacquer bowl all set on top of a Go boardgame board.

A “roji,” or small tea garden, welcomes guests with poetic landscaping decorated with Japanese ritual stones and Ukrainian DIDO art sculptures from the MAKHNO workshop. The small pieces are placed as protective totems, shielding occupants from bad vibes and unwanted guests.

Front view of the home's small tea garden entry lined with gravel, surrounded by lush traditional Japanese landscaping and tile roof, gently illuminated at dusk by a wall mounted light and small Japanese stone lantern.

Front view of the home's small tea garden entry called "roji", with lush traditional Japanese landscaping and tile roof.

Corner detail shot of the home's small tea garden called "roji", decorated with Japanese ritual stones and Ukrainian DIDO art sculptures from the MAKHNO workshop situated near a moss-filled ceramic bowl.

The KYOTO HOUSE embodies the harmonious convergence of two distinct cultures, inviting individuals to immerse themselves in the serene simplicity of savoring tea, connecting with our senses, and in appreciation of Japanese heritage. Or as succinctly stated by MAKHNO Studio’s founder, Serhii Makhno: “This is a home for tea and life.”

Photography by Naoki Miyashita.

Gregory Han is a Senior Editor at Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at gregoryhan.com.

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