Hotel KOO – collection of seven rehabilitated machiya’s in Ootsu

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Hotel KOO is a collection of seven rehabilitated machiya’s (traditional Japanese townhouses) refurbished with modern furnishings, some as private villas and others with two or three separate guest bedrooms creating 13 units in total. Japanese machiya’s are small – typically around 1,000 sq. ft – and split into two levels.  Adherence to key features such as entrance foyer (remove shoes please) and miniature interior garden make it exceedingly challenging to create space so naturally design ingenuity tends to focus on details like materials selection and construction quality often using traditional methods and uniquely Japanese aesthetics. KOO is indeed a masterclass on exceptionally high quality traditional construction and meticulous variation of Japanese-Nordic furnishings in which no two units are alike in their layout and FF&E.

 

 

As you walk up to each machiya, what  greets you is just picture perfect, overly flawless perhaps, facade. Contrasted colors of Japanese cypress doors and shutters layered against slate wall and roof tiles, perfectly situated waif tree to one side nestled on stone and pebble garden.  As you enter, the tyranny of confined space is undone by impossibly light Japanese construction at its finest. Washi-paper sliding doors gently glide at the flick of fingertips and occasional hand-made glass doors clink and clank from its delicately thin construction.

 

As I entered Chaya (a split-level private villa configuration), there it was Finn Juhl Pelican Chair, arguably the most avant garde product of the designer perching on the living room tatami floor. Genuinely surprising was how the elaborate and voluminous Pelican chair harmoniously exists in this confined and delicate setting. It wasn’t the contrast that was strangely pleasing, indeed it was how the Japanese and Finnish dimensions naturally fit.

 

These scattered accommodation style takes its cue from ‘Albergo Diffuso’ in Italy. Albergo Diffuso originates from Italy where visionary hoteliers with strong sense of adventure and passion for history returned to hollowing out historic towns to develop unusual hotels. Albergo Diffuso as the name literally suggest are ‘diffused, scattered hotel rooms’ throughout a small town. Central functions and facilities like reception and F&B are housed in one of the larger units. Some of the most recognised Albergo Diffusos are Sextantio in Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo and Sextantio le Grotte Della Civita in Matera.

Ootsu is the seat of Shiga Prefecture – not in Kyoto Prefecture but stones throw from it across the administrative border and one can be carried swiftly in a local train from Kyoto Station in less than ten minutes.  It’s a small and ageing city (population is still respectable 340k) hollowed out by younger generation seeking careers elsewhere. It is also a bedroom community of sorts serving the economy of Kyoto.  KOO is roughly ten minute walk from Ootsu Station.

 

Hotel KOO Ootsu

1 Chome-2-6 Central, Otsu, Shiga 520-0043, Japan

http://hotel-koo.com/rooms/

Per-person rate at Ohmiya (Main townhouse containing three-units) starts Y20,000

House of Finn Juhl, Hakuba Hotel

Skærmbillede 2016-11-30 kl. 18.16.57

Lounge/Living room of House of Finn Juhl

It’s a wet late fall day in Hakuba and rain drizzles as the temperature falls in the valley. Hakuba, the site for 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, is not known for beautiful lodging options – in fact far from it – so I’m particularly delighted that a new, design minded lodge quietly opened its doors. House of Finn Juhl is usually a name given to Finn Juhl showrooms but this showroom is a hotel kind. The smallish five-room (six if you include Owner’s Room which is reserved for the four partners of the estate) lodge is a shrine to Finn Juhl design owned by the Danish company which produces and markets the designer’s furniture.

Original materials of the lodge were maintained as much as possible with careful restoration of hinoki flooring, cedar wood staircases and pine timber beams. The flooring is supposed to be almost forty years old but it looks as pale as new so these guys clearly know a thing or two about bleaching, waxing and restoring wood. The two-story lodge’s ground floor features lounge, dining room and kitchen, second floor guest rooms and bar and dry, ski storage in the basement. The lounge showcases perfect mix of Baker sofa, Poet sofa and Chieftain Chair, epitome of Finn Juhl aesthetics.

Guest rooms are economic but thoughtful simplicity of Japanese-Danish variety makes room for sufficiency. High quality beds and duvets adorned with Finn Juhl side lamps (rarity as the designer weren’t productive in lamps) comfortably takes up one end of the room. Bathroom is a rare letdown fitted out in modular toilet and shower equipment typical of business hotels and ryokans found in Japan.

So the chairs… Poet Sofa’s classically pretty curves are true to the poetic imagination it conjures. Slightly pointed shoulders on either side of the sofa invites with a warm embrace and the studded buttons punctuate it’s prettiness. There are two Poet Sofas in the Hotel, one in the lounge and the other in the Poet Bedroom. They are upholstered in rich woven fabric and the bedroom sofa is contrasted with a leather seat. I love this sofa’s loveseat proportions (full disclosure… Poet Sofa prominently occupies the living room of the Singapore apartment we rent out).

Poet Sofa-21

Poet Sofa upholstered in contrast fabric

Nyhavn which are used as communal dining tables have its origins as Finn Juhl’s work desk. The desk has folds on either side which can be opened up to extend to comfortably seat 6 or even 8. Flat and linear table top and slender cylindrical legs pointed downward are unusually minimal aesthetic among Finn Juhl’s design normally known for elegant, even elaborate shapes. I find Nyhavn, as a dining table, lacking certain warmth and entertainment… I wish it was replaced by chunky single piece timber board in keeping with the Hakuba alpine environment. That combined with any of the minimalist Finn Juhl chairs would have made a stunning and inviting dining room.

Nyhavn-Dining-Table-2

Now the Pelican Chair, one of the most iconic and well known designs of Finn Juhl. I couldn’t overcome my reservations for this overtly elaborate and beautiful product. They are scattered around the hotel upholstered in various hues of leather, amply displaying its swagger. Exaggerated shoulders spread out and reaches in to create an almost surreal aesthetic akin to Dali’an imagination. But as you sink into the chair with knees slightly raised, I’m cradled into a comfortable sitting position. Together with the robust Baker Sofa or similarly peacocking 46 Sofa, it creates a stunning set piece. I heard that a Korean distributor created a custom, feathered version of Pelican… in true surrealist proportion. I’d love to see that.

Pelican Chair Credit Andreas Weiss--24

Pelican Chair

Hakuba is a small ski town and mountaineering hub in the heart of Japanese Alps. It can be reached within an hour drive (or shuttle connection) from Nagano which is again a swift 90min Shinkansen ride from Tokyo which makes it a super convenient get away.

Skærmbillede 2016-12-19 kl. 12.48.09

House of Finn Juhl, Hakuba Hotel

Japan, 〒399-9301 Nagano Prefecture, Kitaazumi District, Hakuba, Hokujo, 3020-281

Room rates Y30,000 in off season (non-Jul./Aug. and ski season)

Includes breakfast but no other food service provided

No service charge – enjoy until it lasts 🙂