Karuizawa, 170 kilometres north-west of Tokyo in the Japanese prefecture of Nagano, is a little town nestled at the foot of the active volcano Mount Asama. Luxuriant vegetation, gentle slopes and proximity to the capital city made Karuizawa an exclusive weekend and holiday resort already by the end of the 19th century. Tucked away in a forest of larch, Douglas fir and birch, the house - a weekend retreat designed by architect Yoshihiko Iida - slips into its surrounds, adapts to the sloping terrain and respects the naturally growing trees.
From the main access road to the north of the plot, a path - paved with local larch planks initially used as formwork during construction – winds its way for some 40 metres towards the house following the natural contour of the land. The pathway continues along the west side of the building to form an outdoor corridor protected by the sloping roof that juts out to create a broad canopy. This extended eave gives a pleasant asymmetry to the whole roof.
On the south front, the corridor opens into a spacious loggia, which in turn gives access to the living-area. A fully glazed façade allows natural light to stream into the house and turns the veranda into an extension of the living-area.
Wood is also a key feature of the interior. The functional core – comprising kitchen, bathroom and master bedroom – is to all intents and purposes a box made of light-coloured timber in contrast to the darker larch used to clad walls and ceiling. The same light-coloured wood has been used for much of the fitted furniture.
The bathroom is completely lined in hinoki, Japanese cypress, as is the bathtub, separated by a glass wall from the rest of the room.
The interior staircase to the upper level in Douglas fir was made and fitted by specialist craftsmen.
On the upper floor, a large environment overlooking the double-height living-area serves as a study for the owner.
Next door, is the guestroom. A mezzanine sleeping level, naturally lit from a rooflight hatch and strewn with tatami, the traditional rectangular sleeping mats in woven rice straw woven sleeping mats, expresses all the elegant sobriety of Japanese architecture.