Japanese Jewelbox

This Makiki home gets all the details right—from the tatami room to the traditional Japanese furo.


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Photo by Hal Lum

Of course, with the big picture so well defined, Bass had plenty of time to sweat the details. “It turns out to actually be harder to do a simple box house well than it is to do a big, wild house with all sorts of stuff,” he says. “There’s nothing to distract you from the little things.”

He chose the contractor, Commercial Contracting Hawaii, with this in mind; CCH owner Bob Prevost’s specialty is custom woodwork, and Bass encouraged him to make the most of a rich selection of light-grained woods—maple, fir, ipe (ironwood) and three different varieties of cedar, including Spanish, yellow and Port Orford.

Prevost obliged, filling the house with clean, sophisticated work—custom cabinetry, doors, trim, lanai decks and railings, flooring—that was finished off with beautiful touches such as dovetail joints.
The kitchen remains Western in its use of appliances, but incorporates Japanese touches such as the circular wall opening with bamboo inserts.

Photos by Hal Lum




“It’s like a jewelry box, it really is,” says Bass. “The attention to detail was amazing. Everything was tight, and the pieces were well selected. He wasn’t just installing the next piece of wood on the pile.”

To complement the exquisite woodwork, Japanese design elements abound. Visitors can remove their shoes in the genkan, or doorway area, before stepping up into the main house. A beautifully finished sitting room with tatami mats and shoji screens adjoins the more conventional TV area downstairs, and acts as a convenient guest room or private area.

The owners have even incorporated a furo, the traditional Japanese bath that includes a separate area for cleaning up before bathing in the steep-sided tub. (They did compromise a bit by using a conventional porcelain tub rather than an all-wood construction, which would have tended to leak.)

A less obvious Japanese influence on the house’s design is in the thoughtful use of space. The downstairs bathroom, for example, looks out onto a small garden that is walled for privacy. But by opening up the side of the garden closest to the back door, Bass was able to get double duty out of the area, making it visible to visitors without letting them peek into the bathroom. The tatami room, when it’s not being used as a private space, can be opened all the way up to expand the living room area.

Bass and the owners also saved space by going small where they could. Rather than devoting an entire room to laundry and utilities, they decided to pack the washer and dryer in a small and efficient closet area near the back entrance. “I actually like this idea a lot, and I think I’m going to try to convince others to use the concept,” says Bass. “So often the laundry room is a huge, wasted space.”

The master bedroom’s closet, too, got the shrinking treatment. No his-and-hers walk-in palace here; the owners’ clothes are kept in a closet you might expect to find in a condominium. “I’d rather look at beautiful furniture rather than the door of a closet, so why waste the space,” the wife points out. “And Japanese style is that you keep the seasonal clothes that you need nearby, and put the rest into storage, so you don’t have every item of clothing you own in the closet at the same time.”

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