Community-based design-build・Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan・New Solid-wood (Ita-kura) Heavy-timber (Minka) Homes・Renovations・Natural・Healthy Architecture

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Clients' Comments

Midorino Residence (“O” House) Completed: 2011

photo:Midorino Residence (“O” House) Completed: 2011

How did you find out about Architectonic Atelier Yuu?
(Mr. O) I always intended to build a house before I reached the age of 40. Five or six years ago we started looking in various places for a parcel of land that would suit us, and we started seriously planning our strategy for building. I had good memories of coming to Tsukuba as a child, and found a nice property here. After lots of research, we thought we would like to build a solid-wood (itakura) home, and we found out about Architectonic Atelier Yuu. I got such a sense of reassurance from the Yuu director (Mr. Tsushima) and from seeing a Yuu house that was under construction, that I immediately decided to request the building of a home.
What were your main concerns for the family home?
(Mr. O) A large, open living and dining room, so that the family can spend time together.
(Mrs. O) I wanted a home that would be reminiscent of the traditional samurai residence. Of course, not damp, and no mold. A healthy home with lots of storage.
What do you think of this solid-wood home now that you have been living here for a while?
We lived in our previous place for about ten years, and unfortunately it had problems with moisture and mold. The kids had lots of allergies, which were probably due to that house.

Our first impression of this new house was that it feels great, and it still feels great now that we’ve been here a while.
The house is really comfortable even on wet, rainy summer days. Last summer it was really hot, but we were fine with no air conditioner (we didn’t have one installed). Laundry hung inside gets dry in one day.

Since we moved here, our kids’ allergies have improved. But more than that, we like to come home to this house. We used to get away from home as often as possible when we had free time, but now we like to spend our free time here.

(Daughter) The only problem is, since the house is made of all natural materials, things get stained easily, which Dad bugs us about!

About the natural aging of the wood: the daily experience of the opening and closing of cracks in the beams and the movement of the joints with weather changes feels as though the wood is alive, and we can see how the wood is regulating the humidity for us.
Where is the most comfortable place in the house? Where is the most uncomfortable place?
(Mr. O) The dining area has the best sun exposure, and I really like my computer corner. (Mrs. O) The kitchen. (Kids) Our room, the dining room and especially the folding counter at the window in the dining room. Uncomfortable place? There isn't any!

Things we really like in the house are the folding counter in the dining room and the display cabinet (contains our treasured dinosaur collection and our most cherished memories). The built-in cabinets are great, and each space is integrated. There is lots of storage space. We really like the deep portico entrance. It looks very elegant, and is a good place to put the bicycles. We are thinking it should also be a nice place for the dog in the summer.
What could have been done differently?
(Mr. O) There was some trial-and-error in the design stage; for example, the living room really needed direct light.
It would be better if the walk-in closet in the entrance hall were accessible without wearing outside shoes.
The cool air from the atrium and the staircase is very nice in the summer, but in the winter, it does feel too drafty.
Also, we chose the bath based on design, but we should have considered warmth a bit more.
What comments do you have about the maintenance for a solid-wood house?
Well, we put a waterproof coating on the wood deck and on the bathroom wall panels.
What can you say about working with the designers?
At the beginning, the whole family was asked to thoroughly describe our (then) living situation, and each member of the family was asked how they wanted to live in the future. From that, a general plan was made, and during the next four months we met often with the designers to refine it, until the construction documents were finished. During that time the designers explained the risks of using untested building materials, helped us to decide what we really did and didn’t need, and helped us choose fixtures and fittings within our budget. The design process was fun, and also I realized that a house is really something to build, not just something to buy.
What do you remember most about the construction process?
When the foundation was completed, I was really surprised how big the house seemed to be. I was very happy to see the form of the house emerging every time I went to the construction site. The whole family helped to stain the exterior cryptomeria (Japanese cedar) walls; that is a good memory that we all have together. We also really enjoyed the “topping out” (jichinsai) ceremony. We were happy that we could feel that we participated in the construction.
Please tell us frankly what you think about the house, after living here for six months.
Comfortable. Happy! Large. Clean.
What advice would you give to somebody wanting to build a solid-wood house?
We’d advise them to take a look at existing solid-wood houses, first. There are actually lots of them around here. We are happy to show our house to Architectonic Atelier Yuu clients. We also think it is a good idea to use a local company for design and construction, so that they can respond quickly if anything happens.
Do you have any final requests?
Can you tell us how the wood will continue to age; how the house should change over time and what kinds of maintenance we ought to do? Also, in the future, we’d like to build another house with an environmentally friendly green roof, so we’d like your advice about that.

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Fujisawa Residence (“T” House) Completed: 2010

photo:Fujisawa Residence (“T” House) Completed: 2010

How did you find out about Architectonic Atelier Yuu?
From newspapers and magazines. We visited about three design offices before we chose Architecture Atelier Yuu to rebuild our old heavy-timber home. We were particularly happy about the fact that Yuu does the whole process from design through construction.
What were your main concerns for the family home?
As much as possible, we wanted to preserve the original shape and appearance of the house, while updating it to suit our present lifestyle. In addition, we wanted to install a wood-burning stove for heat, and we wanted to reuse the zelkova (keyaki) wood that was originally in the house. That was used in the framing for the new entrance hall.
What do you think of this solid-wood home now that you have been living here for a while?
Before the house was renovated, we liked it. It had lots of tatami, though.
Our first impression living here after the renovation was that the wood really changes a lot: shrinking and drying in winter, but swelling back up in the summer. It gives the feeling that the wood is really alive.
Comfort? Well, in the summer, the house actually got pretty hot—more than 35° C. That was a bit too much.
What has changed from our previous life? While the renovation was going on, we slept in another building on the premises, so not much has changed. However, now there is a lot more cleaning to do, so our little Roomba robot is pretty active.
How do we feel about the aging of the wood? Don’t know yet, because it has only been a year since the renovation.
Where is the most comfortable place in the house? Where is the most uncomfortable place?
The most comfortable place in the winter is the living room around the stove, but in the summer, the bedroom is the coolest place.

The least comfortable places are around the windows and in the bath room in the winter; they are cold.

Wood Stove:
Since heating with the wood stove requires quite a lot of wood, it is a good idea to carefully consider this before installing one. It is also important to consider where the firewood will be stored.

What fixtures and features do we like best?
The Miele 60cm dishwasher and the IKEA storage cabinets are very useful.
What could have been done differently?
The towada stone tiles and sawara wood planking in the bath are very easy to clean, but are pretty cold in the winter, so a “unit bath” might have been nice. It would have been nice to have more open bookshelves. Although the bedroom is heated by an “Eco-Cute” floor heating unit, it is quite expensive; we wish we had also installed a wood stove there.
What comments do you have about the maintenance for a solid-wood house?
There isn’t anything special; there isn’t as much maintenance as we thought. Also, maintaining the solid wood counter in the wash-room is not as hard as I expected. We would like to know how often we should treat the wood floors with sesame oil.
(Yuu Staff: About once every two years is fine; pine flooring in particular can just be wiped with a dry cloth.)
Because the natural wood fixtures may warp depending on heat and humidity, seasonal maintenance may be necessary.
What can you say about working with the designers?
We expected that the construction would take about a year. The designers requested the whole family to participate in the design. However, it would have been nice if changes during construction had been a bit easier to understand.
What do you remember most about the construction process?
There were lots of difficulties during construction; the construction manager worked hard. Since the project was big, sometimes progress seemed to be slow.
Please tell us frankly what you think about the house, after living here for a year.
If the rooms were smaller (more partitions), the house would probably feel warmer. Also, we wish there were a wall between the dirt floored area (doma) and the living room.
When sap comes out of the new wood or when we can hear the wood cracking as it dries, the children are very aware of it. It’s then that we realize what it means to live in a house built of solid wood.
Because we have been living here for a year now, we have gotten used to the smell and don’t notice it, but visitors always remark how it smells like wood.
Because the house is spacious and airy, the kids can have lots of friends over to play.
What advice would you give to somebody wanting to build a solid-wood house?
Well, it is drafty, so we have to take measures against the cold. However, since most houses these days are built so quickly, it is a real luxury to have a carefully-built house made from solid wood.
Do you have any final requests?
We are very grateful because even after we moved in, particularly after the big earthquake, Yuu staff has taken care to visit and see if everything is OK. We think it is a good idea to visit buildings such as ours, especially to see how they are really lived in, so we welcome visitors.

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