The house a Japanese architect designed to live with his cats

Between height gaps, hideaways and privileged viewpoints, an architect's home-studio is tailored around “clients“ using tails rather than words to communicate.

Cats are certainly among the most beloved animals in Japan pervading literature, manga and folklore. From the pages of Natsume Sōseki and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, to the pop culture of maneki neko and Hello Kitty, the cat is a popular character in Japanese culture in the most varied meanings: revered, loved and cuddled, sometimes feared (think of the mutant bakeneko and the demonic kasha), but nevertheless a respected companion.

So it is not surprising that an architect has conceived his home-studio in function not only of his own needs but also, and above all, of those of his cats, who have been an integral part of the family for ten years and are considered as demanding “clients” with whom to relate through a necessarily non-verbal language.

This is the case of the home designed by architect Tan Yamanouchi in Kamakura, a city rich in history and culture one hour from Tokyo. The project was conceived to meet three substantial needs of the feline clients: the possibility of choosing the preferred temperature level at any day or time, through even minute differences in the height of the floors, the possibility of coexisting with humans in the same room but with due distances, the possibility of finding shalter in safe places in the case of (more or less welcome) guests. Thus, the house is conceived as a gigantic cat tree where cats can climb, hide, play and rest, finding their way around easily.

The construction, characterised by two interconnected volumes clad with slate slabs, with an L-shaped layout and sloping roofs of different inclinations, evokes the materiality and composite profile of the Kamakura mountains. The building is surrounded by a pleasant garden divided into two areas: the front entrance space with a rich variety of essences, to the south-east, and the terrace at the back, with a vegetable garden and edible herbs, accessible by a wooden staircase and bordered by a concrete wall, to the north-west.

Tan Yamanouchi & AWGL, A Cat Tree House, Kamakura, Japan 2023. Photo Lamberto Rubino

The interior layout pivots around a zenithally lit full-height central room, in which stands an airy staircase with ramps tangent to the perimeter and with risers and treads of various sizes, so as to offer the cats diversified perspectives and exploratory possibilities in a continuous interplay of height and light variations.

The staircase acts as a trait d'union between the domestic spaces, where felines can easily hide: on the ground floor a study, a kitchen, a dining room, a bathroom; on the upper floor a bedroom, a wardrobe and a guest room.

Along the staircase, a system of cantilevered shelving houses a library, where steps at seat height offer humans reading areas and felines privileged viewpoints for quietly observing life in the neighbourhood, through the lowered windows.

Tan Yamanouchi & AWGL, A Cat Tree House, Kamakura, Japan 2023. Photo Lamberto Rubino

The entire structure, made of wood and exposed, is inspired by the tamasudare, a screen of woven bamboo sticks that the artists use, twisting and bending it, to create shapes in a traditional street performance. The finishing materials in the interior, from the raw wood of the structures, floors and cladding, to the plaster in light, luminous tones, to the metal of the thin, handcrafted handrail profile of the staircase reminiscent of mountain profiles, evoke a warm and welcoming environment, where the users' need for sensory and psychological wellbeing transcends the idiosyncrasy of scratching on parquet flooring.

A Cat Tree House
Architectural project:
Tan Yamanouchi & AWGL/Tan Yamanouchi (chief architect)
Structural engineering:
Yamawaki Katsuhiko Architectural Engineering Design/Katsuhiko Yamawaki, Yumena Hirata
Tokyo Kenchiku Plus/Satoshi Nakazato, Yuta Ogura
SOLSO/Hidenori Juna

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