Alastair & Kayoko's "Mansion" Apartment

Alastair & Kayoko's "Mansion" Apartment

Gregory Han
Jul 17, 2009

Name: Alastair Townsend and Kayoko Ohtsuki of BAKOKO Design Development 
Location: Matsudo, Japan 
Size: 400 sq. ft.
Years lived in: 6 months

When architects Alastair Townsend and Kayoko Ohtsuki of BAKOKO Design Development wanted a place of their own to call home on the outskirts of Tokyo, they found a tiny 400 sq. ft. space. Amusingly, these modest spaces are referred to as a "mansion" apartment in Japan (mansion apartments are spaces usually rented to a single occupant due to their small size, ranging from miniscule 110 sq ft to spacious suburban family sized units). The apartment was transformed into a modern-minimal environment where they could easily work and meet clients, while also having an area to rest and relax. 


What we most love about what they've done with the small space is their adaptation to the small space with luxuries like a tatami mat rest area, an overhead garden above the kitchen, the warm Hinoki wood decking in the bathing area, and the striking use of hot pink and black to designate spaces hidden inside the confines of a white dominated interior. It's spare, yet inviting apartment where the lack of space has been beautifully disguised.

AT Survey:

My/Our style: Contemporary

Inspiration: Being architects, we wanted to create a clean, bright, modern interior where we could work and meet clients.

Favorite Element: The apartment is faces southwest. No only do we see beautiful sunsets, but also Mt. Fuji on a clear day. Our "oidaki" bath which is filled and heated from talking digital consoles in the kitchen and bathroom. The timber 'sonoko' (decking) and bathtub surround are made from Hinoki wood. The design of the control panels is beautifully minimal. Our Inax Washlet (toilet with automatic bidet). Don't know how we lived without them in the West. Anything else is, well….pretty &*^%$.

Biggest Challenge: Working alongside Japanese contractors was tricky at times. Our design was far from typical. Sometimes, they insisted on doing things their own way. Persuading them took tact and perseverance.

What Friends Say: "Sutekiiiii!" – Japanese for "coooool!"

Biggest Embarrassment: We had to tear down the first ceiling we built after we followed our first contractor's bad advice to build it out of recycled wood and thin plywood. We fired that guy and got in a real carpenter who put in a new drywall ceiling in less than a day.

Proudest DIY: The hanging cupboards with built-in planter - the units are hung from the concrete slab above. Also, the light coving which I framed myself - kind of made things up as I went along, but they turned out pretty well.

Biggest Indulgence: We overindulged in lighting. We wanted to experiment with various lighting concepts. There are numerous architectural light coves that wash walls, ceiling and floor with indirect light and create atmosphere. Two of the central doors slide apart to reveal a hot (pink) desk as well as a full length mirror. The key to the live/work lifestyle is being able to shut one's work away and out of sight at the end of a hectic day.

The tatami area is not only a space for meditation, occasional dining, and entertaining. Come bedtime, a futon can be unfolded from the closet, thus saving space. The illuminated box along one wall holds nighttime reading material and doubles as a reading light and bedside table.

Best advice: I worked closely on site with our carpenter and learned so much. He uses a Makita circular saw in ways no one would think possible. His guidance was invaluable and it is thanks to him that we have smooth and flat, ceilings, walls and floors. Internal partitions were demolished to to maximize light penetration and provide an open-plan living arrangement. Closets flanking the main space are concealed behind full-length sliding doors.

Dream source: Sanwa Company (Japan) - we found many useful products there: our Corian sink, faucet, kitchen and bath paneling.


Appliances: Inax (washlet). Kitchen is from Nittori. Oidaki boiler and bath system is made my Noritz. Wall-mounted Toshiba Air Conditioner/Heater unit w/ remote control (these are standard in Japan)

Furniture: Vintage: GPlan dining set. Eames sofa.

Accessories: Peace Lillies. Red Vernor Panton pendant lampshade

Lighting: Many standard (inexpensive) fluorescent ballasts are concealed in the numerous architectural light coves. Odelic (Japan) track lighting in the living room.

Rugs and Carpets: Tatami mats were bought from Japan's Rakuten website.

Tiles and Stone: None. Since re-tiling the wet room would have been expensive and hard to keep mold-free, we found an excellent white plastic bath panel that is adhered over existing tilework. This product is available from Sanwa //

Window Treatments: Original sash windows.

Beds: Japanese futon that folds away into the adjacent closet to save space.

Paint: White emulsion. Matte black for toilet. Hot pink for working desk.

Flooring: Natural Birch Flooring. Osmo organic floor wax.

(Thanks, Alastair and Kayoko!)

(Images by BAKOKO Design Development)

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