by Pooja Suresh HollannavarJul 08, 2023
Perfectly blending Japanese heritage with contemporary design, Kyoto House by Ukrainian design and architecture practice MAKHNO Studio, encapsulates the synergy of two cultures, inviting one to experience the essence of tea and life. The project is nestled within Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, and sees the renovation of a century-old residence—transforming its spaces using modern Japanese design with a touch of Ukrainian ceramic art. Throughout the process, lead architect and designer Serhii Makhno sought to preserve and refine the traces of residual time, paying homage to authentic elements, including original tatami mats and textured clay wall surfaces.
"At the heart of this 100-year-old home, where people's laughter of family and the echoes of generations succeed each other, is a timeless story. Every weathered brick and worn floorboard whispers the story of the past and carries the weight of memory into the present. Entering the path of reconstruction, we faced a difficult task. It was necessary to weave the threads of history into a harmonious design and preserve the essence of a bygone era,” mentions Makhno.
Completed for a family with children, the house welcomes guests and residents with tea at the entrance. There, a small tea garden, Roji, is adorned with Japanese ritual stones and Ukrainian DIDO art sculptures from the MAKHNO workshop. These entities are believed to protect a house from sad thoughts and uninvited guests.
Moving to the entrance hall, called Genkan in a Japanese residence, one is invited to take off their shoes and turn them around until they leave. A multifunctional space, this part of the Kyoto House features, on one side, the owner’s office filled with artworks and a niche for calligraphy tools; and on the other side a living room where guests are received. On the way to the living room, a collectible of Japanese and Ukrainian art greets visitors, nudging them to enter a spacious, bright area—the centre of which is divided by a Byobu, a light Japanese screen.
At the heart of the house, guests are led to the exquisite tearoom or chashitsu. Once a bedroom, this room has now been transformed into an authentic tearoom, radiating the essence of wabi-sabi with its new tatami flooring and Japanese vashi paper adornments. In the centre of the room, the focal point is the ro, a special fire used for making tea that never extinguishes. The hanging teapot above the ro is deftly handled by the host, initiating a meditative ambiance that beckons guests to engage in silent contemplation.
The heart of the tearoom is the tokonoma, a revered space in Japanese homes where carefully chosen objects guide participants on their tea journey. An ikebana arrangement, a minimalist bouquet of seasonal plants, epitomises the wabi and sabi principles—the beauty of restraint and the impermanence of time. The shepherdess, an exquisite vase crafted by renowned Japanese master Shiro Tsujimura, holds this delicate composition. Scrolls bearing poetic inscriptions by calligraphy virtuoso Shuho Kondo further elevate the contemplative atmosphere.
Through the tea ceremony, the guests are surrounded by an array of exquisite ceramics that adorn the space. The breathtaking Bidzen ware, characterised by its reddish hues and unique surface texture, emerges from the Okayama Prefecture and boasts a history spanning five centuries.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the guests are invited to sip from a chawan, a traditional teacup that encapsulates the aesthetics of wabi-sabi. These handle-less ceramic vessels, shaped by hand and marked by their imperfections, carry with them the essence of history. The older the chawan, the more treasured its value, as its lineage narrates the passage of time. Ukrainian ceramics stand in harmony with their Japanese counterparts, presenting the intricate DIDO sculptures from MAKHNO workshops. These pieces, crafted by hereditary potters, bridge a 3,000-year-old tradition with contemporary design, a testament to the timeless allure of ceramic artistry.
The Ukrainian architect continues, "The legacy of time was sealed into the walls, creating a unique historical and intangible atmosphere. Our task was not to erase these traces but to honour them. Like a craftsman restoring an ancient canvas, we decided to refine and improve it. A cultural dance was born, which traces the symphony of Ukrainian traditions and Japanese aesthetics of elegance and simplicity. It was a delicate balance that allowed us to add a drop of colour to the canvas without overwhelming the existing beauty."
"With each design touch, the Ukrainian colours blended into the Japanese context, creating a story that echoed tradition and modernity. But this journey was not without its challenges. Like whispers of the past, creaky floors, and worn walls threw up riddles. Every turn demanded a solution, every detail - comprehension. It was a dialogue with time, an exchange of ideas between past and present, where every choice had the potential to make history better or worse.”
As the evening deepens, guests of Kyoto House find themselves immersed in a world that seamlessly marries the past and the present, Japanese and Ukrainian cultures, tradition and innovation. The space transforms into an oasis of refined artistry, where the dim light casts gentle shadows on each of the carefully curated pieces. The house represents how design can evoke profound emotions and narratives, offering a sanctuary where the boundaries between history and innovation gracefully blur.
Name: Kyoto House
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Year of completion: 2023
Design Firm: MAKHNO Studio