Constructed on narrow lots, the traditional machiya townhouses in Kyoto, Japan, are often compared to unagi no nedoko, or an eel bed, because of their long, thin shape. Osaka-based Shimpei Oda renovated one of these dark eel bed houses into a light-filled, live/work space for a couple.
The 979.5-square-foot House in Shichiku is a mere 13.5 feet wide and nearly 42 feet long, and is the first eel bed house that Oda—who founded his firm in 2008—has worked on. The original house, which he estimates was completed between 1920 and 1940, was in need of seismic retrofitting and renovations. “The structure of the house had become unstable by repeated extension and reconstruction,” Oda says.
The renovation added several interior walls, which form distinct rooms in addition to shoring up the house structurally. “I proceeded with the project by considering ways to improve earthquake resistance,” Oda says, “and also thinking about furniture and the client’s art works.”
The first floor originally contained an office, bath, and garage with steel shutter doors; Oda redivided the space into a kitchen and dining area, bath and laundry spaces, an entrance foyer, and a studio and gallery that opens to the street. In place of the shutters, Oda inserted a wood entry door and steel-framed window, which can partially open for access to the studio so the wife, a painter, can host exhibitions. A sliding glass door opens from the kitchen onto a garden.
Painted steel stairs lead to a second story, which contains two rooms on either side of an open space designed to serve as an office for the husband, a furniture dealer. Oda moved the staircase from the north side of the house to the south, which allows light to filter into the foyer from a second-story window. While currently a one-bedroom house, the other upstairs room is designed to be converted into a second bedroom if the need arises.
Throughout the house, Oda created a visual distinction between old and new. “To visualize the history of the house, I left the existing columns and beams as they were, and painted reinforcing materials and new structural elements white,” Oda says.
The original wooden beams project through new interior walls, and are left exposed where possible. The wooden structural members are complemented by oak floors in the water closet and living spaces; elsewhere, fiber-reinforced plastic waterproofing was used for the bathroom flooring, and trowel mortar flooring was used in the lavatory, studio, and entrance.
Aside from the first-floor façade, the house’s exterior was left intact, leaving little indication from the street of the pleasant, light-filled surprise inside.
Materials and Sources
Lighting: Daiko; Maxray; DN Lighting