A Small Footprint, Japanese-Inspired Home in Sydney

Machiya are traditional Japanese wooden townhouses that typically housed urban workers and craftspeople in the Kyoto region. The renovation to this family home has been designed with this specific, space-saving architecture in mind!

Owner architect Mathew Mariani enlisted his own firm, Studio Haptic, to transform his three-bedroom weatherboard cottage into a family home in Leichhardt, five kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD. The result is a flexible light-filled home that challenges traditional small-footprint designs!

Sasha Gattermayr

The long, narrow block is typical of the suburb. This one is 6 x 35m! Photo – Simon Whitbread.

The view inside from the internal courtyard. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The double heigh internal courtyard is the heart of the house. Photo – Justin Alexander.

The open plan living space is filled with light! Photo – Justin Alexander.

A warm palette of Vic oak, timber and marble is used to soften the interiors. (Left) Photo – Justin Alexander. (Right) Photo – Simon Whitbread.

The view into the rear of the house. Photo – Simon Whitbread.

The entry hallway. Photo – Simon Whitbread.

The upstairs corridor is filled with light.

Timber slats create an outside-inside transformation. Photo – Simon Whitbread.

The street facade oscillates between private and public. Photo – Justin Alexander.

Sasha Gattermayr
4th of June 2020

When considering the designs for his own family home in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt, Mathew Mariani (of Studio Haptic) turned to Japanese machiya townhouses for inspiration.

‘Traditionally, machiya houses had a public, working shopfront to the house with a private rear living quarters behind,’ he explains owner-architect. The gable-fronted structure on the existing plot resembled the cross-section of a barn, a silhouette the architects chose to retain while adding horizontal timber slats to the facade. These additions functioned like Japanese kōshi screens, opening the front of the house out onto the street and transforming the front room into a semi-public work space.

A passage garden sits just beyond the timber screens leading to a traditional dark hallway entry, where inhabitants are guided into the open-plan layout by natural light. ‘The heart of the house is the tsubo niwa (courtyard), which is experienced as a double height, open-air garden room,’ Mathew says.

Consistent with Japanese design philosophy, there was a large focus on balancing the indoor spaces with connection to the outdoors. Large walls of sliding glass offer connection to the internal courtyard and rear backyard, while floor-to-ceiling fixed glass panes running the length of the upstairs corridor facilitate expansive skyline views.

‘We wanted a house that was able to open up to the outside and yet also easily close up and allow privacy from the surrounding neighbourhoods in the dense inner city,’ Mathew says. By filling this long, single-fronted suburban block with interconnected, flexible spaces swathed in natural light, Mathew demonstrates the simplicity and beauty of Japanese design principles – in the Sydney suburbs.

View more projects by Studio Haptic here.

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