Two Design Store Owners Build a White Box House for Themselves and Their Cats

akira tani and kim hyunsook house tokyo alt hero

Akira Tani and Kim Hyunsook met in Paris in their twenties. Both had come to immerse themselves in art and culture: Akira, who is Japanese, sold vintage finds at a flea market, and Kim, who is Korean, designed for a fashion brand. After years in France, they moved to Tokyo and founded Orné de Feuilles, their housewares shop specializing in thoughtfully made, everyday goods, such as Shaker Box Wastebaskets and Display-Worthy Cat Beds.

For years the couple lived in a house they longed to redesign, but earthquake regulations hampered what they could do. Ultimately, they decided to start from scratch. After finding a tear-down in Setagaya, a residential area close to central Tokyo, they lived in a rental while creating a 3-D model of the dwelling they envisioned. “I realized that I wanted to live in a south-facing white box with high ceilings, more like a shop or gallery than a house—I wanted the walls to not feel too ‘home,’” says Akira. And since they’re exceptionally devoted to their two rescue cats, the mission was to incorporate inventive feline designs throughout.

They signed on with T. Shoji of T. Shoji Atelier, an architect willing to help them achieve the plan, and after an initial build that took 18 months, Akira,  Kim, and cats moved into what was still very much a construction site. “Our carpenters referred to the project as the Sagrada Familia, after the Gaudí church that’s never been completed,” says Akira. Two years later, the crew would be surprised by how much progress the couple have made, including tackling the tiling and other finish work themselves. Join us for a tour.

Photography courtesy of Akira Tani and Kim Hyunsook.

akira and kim found their property on the japanese real estate network at home& 17
Above: Akira and Kim found their property on the Japanese real estate network At Home—wanting a leafy, secluded urban spot, they also used Google Maps “to see where there was greenery.” Their house replaced a 50-year-old modest structure, and since it’s built on a sloped site, Kim explains, “we had to use concrete for the foundation and back wall. We couldn’t afford concrete for the whole thing but wanted to give that impression. It’s a two-story wooden house, but we used a Japanese product called Joripatto, a material similar to concrete, on the outer walls.”

“It’s hard to photograph the whole house because it’s hidden by trees,” continues Kim. Shown here, a glimpse of the entry. Akira says they were inspired by Le Corbusier and other modernists—”we thought it would be simple and cost-effective.”

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