Designer Focus: Kengo Kuma's Suteki house
House Number Five might be a better name for the Suteki house at the 2017 NW Natural Street of Dreams, given that it stands out so starkly compared the other behemoths.
Architect Kengo Kuma, designing for Suteki America, has taken the look and feel of his recently opened cultural center at the Portland Japanese Gardens and repurposed them in a single-family home.
And what a family it will be, attracted to both living large and looking modest.
The vertical wooden louvers make the L-shaped home seem like it is trying to hide in a cul-de-sac of swollen pride. This is a snout house with a nose job: the wooden stripes of the double garage doors blend in with the rest of the facade. (Kumar has used the same wood, Alaskan yellow cedar, as is found on the new Business School at Portland State University.
Kumar's low-pitched roof makes the home appear smaller than it is. The front door is oddly modest, down a little path: no flaming pools or klieg lights announce the entrance.
Inside however, you turn left down Gallery 1 into the giant kitchen/great room, with dominant sliding windows that look out over pocket-sized garden designed by Portland Japanese Garden curator, Sadafumi Uchiyama.
The kitchen strives for a minimalism that may be impossible to sustain. There are however 15 identical cupboards above the longest counter. If you hold up an object and it does not bring you joy, you could always stash it here. The room feels like an art installation; with a dramatic V-shaped score in the ceiling holding bright white LEDs. The focus of the room is outward however, and the floating deck (engawa) is inviting, as it hangs over the foundation, apparently unsupported, but sheltered by eaves (hisashi).
The kitchen counters too are beveled, to make them seem thinner than they are.
You can walk outside in a clockwise direction and enter the master bathroom. Kuma has glazed the corners of the home, for maximum visibility. If the bathtub seems a little exposed, there is always the master shower, which could probably accommodate a couple of sumo wrestlers.
These grand spaces seem a little wasteful until you go upstairs. The stairs are underlit by LED strips, as is the master bed. The home is suited to Pottery Barn decor — everywhere there is coral, stones, twigs, rope baskets and silvery abstract art. Everything feels muted In Gallery 2, however, there is a delightful sitting area with views through multiple windows all the way though to the kitchen stove.
This is a giant house where you could visually keep in touch with your family instead of retreating into isolation. The two easy chairs swivel and rock, and give commanding views of the interior and the garden.
According to the homebuilder, Suteki's design includes "simple shifts that move toward a more productive and enjoyable suburban model of living. The design emphasizes connections to the outside, allowing for the yards and surrounding terrain to be outdoor rooms, while keeping the interiors bright, open and generously proportioned."
Upstairs you feel the architecture working its magic. There are more rooms, with lower ceilings. Some ceilings drop down to a five-foot widow, like an attic that never feels cramped. You stumble upon a master bedroom, master bathroom and walk-in closet. And more bedrooms, one and two. Each has its own bathroom with the same glass-walled shower which is neither showy nor modest. The house begins to feel like Dr. Who's tardis, bigger on the inside than the out.
"Sublimity of nature"
All of which raises the question, could the typical American family with a few million to spend live here? The sleek wooden floors probably would not do well with a Bart Simpson-type boy grinding his skateboard through the immaculate spaces. And the Entertainment room, with its Sony the size a queen bed and sofa fit for two, might be a bit cramped for a Homeland or PewDiePie marathon.
"My collaboration with Suteki is owed to our shared view of the sublimity of nature," said Kuma. "Embracing the surroundings, insisting on natural materials, sustainability and transparency creates a space where people can experience nature more completely and intimately."
Suteki's philosophy is to give people "restorative and holistic experiences in their homes through seamless indoor and outdoor living spaces built around nature. This includes clear views without obstructions and the use of natural materials such as wood, tile and stone."
The company says it will build more Kuma-designed homes in Beaverton, although it is not clear yet whether they will be re-scalings of the Street of Dreams design or totally new designs.
The home succeeds on that level. Seeing Oregonians' principles embodied in such a different form could be jarring, but it could be the disruption people are seeking, when they pine for a simpler suburban life.