Look for Modern Intrigue to Historic Japanese 'Machiya' Homes

The machiya townhouses of Kyoto, Japan, originated at the Heian period (794–1185), and several have original details, like cedar-beamed ceilings that were carved hundreds of years ago by local artisans. Many homeowners today have updated the historical style with contemporary flair — Scandinavian furniture, modern art, retro record players — making those homes highly desired by trend-following design enthusiasts all around the world. This curiosity highlights a current bigger trend of restoring traditional Japanese design and architecture with a samurai-sharp modern edge. Here is the way the look is defined.

Machiya homes, used by Japanese merchants centuries past in Kyoto as their personal living and business space, feature historical design elements, like shoji screens and tatami mat floors, that can instantly root people in an early Eastern atmosphere.

Today more and more of those machiya homes (discovered through Kyoto agencies like Aoi Kyoto Stay and Iori) have been remodeled to sleek townhouses, with their identifying traditional elements preserved, like lattice-wood exteriors and mushiko slit windows (designed for Japan’s warm and humid summers). But varied, modernized interiors have been created with midcentury furniture, retro record players and Scandinavian accessories.

The majority of the cedar-beamed ceilings were carved hundreds of years ago and are cherished today, together with natural lighting and scenic views, just as they had been generations past.

Natural materials, like clay for the walls and washi Japanese paper for the sliding doors, were once used to help regulate humidity and heat during the warm summer months. Now bamboo doors and cosmetic fusuma (sliding doors) are used. Panoramic windows and skylights are also trivial.

The motivated functionality of the conventional structures’ authentic design is remarkable in its simplicity and use of natural materials, but the inclusion of modern, minimalist designs and accoutrements, chosen by the designers or owners of each townhome, are what lift the ambience and character of each space.

The conventional structure can work as a neutral backdrop for bold and modern art, dramatic statement pieces and anachronistic decor, like midcentury Swedish furniture.

Modern features, like heated floors, state-of-the-art bathroom fittings, customized tubs and updated shoji screens, deliver relaxation.

Behind a machiya home is normally a stand-alone storehouse, once used for operational functions in a merchant’s specific field of work — like a small space for sake brewing or a two-story storage for grain.

The renovated storehouses, separated from the main townhouse by small, enclosed gardens, today supply guests with an additional respite. Some owners choose to style the adjacent space for a formal or workspace art gallery, while others make a laid-back recording room or sofa.

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