Modern Minimalism

A family indulges in the abundance of modern minimalism in a one-room house in upstate New York.

| January/February 2015

Living in a one-room house with two small children might not be everyone’s idea of living in abundance, but for Takaaki and Christina Kawabata it’s what makes life richly rewarding. Several years ago, Taka, a senior associate at Manhattan architecture firm Janson Goldstein, and Christina, an entrepreneur who runs the design consultancy TAKATINA, were living in an apartment in Brooklyn. After the birth of their son, Tozai, they realized they wanted to raise him somewhere he could be connected with nature at home. They embarked on a two-year search of properties in the New York City area: in Williamsburg, in Park Slope, in New Jersey. They extended their search, moving north of the city into the outlying towns. Yet nothing seemed quite right. Then Taka went to look at an old 1960s log cabin in Garrison.


Initially, Taka’s real estate agent apologized for wasting his time when they stepped into the rundown 1960s log cabin. It was outdated, dark with virtually no light penetration, and made up of a labyrinth of tiny rooms—yet Taka saw potential in the space. “We realized the Garrison area was known for good schools and for nature,” he says. Known as a vacation home area, Garrison is a community dedicated to preserving its picturesque woodlands. The beautiful river views that inspired 19th-century landscape painters persevere. Hundreds of acres of land are protected, accessible only by winding dirt roads. The community is also a hub for creative, home-based businesses—a fact that makes Christina, who runs TAKATINA from her home, fit in well.

Buying the cabin meant committing to a whole-house renovation, but the home’s location—70 minutes from Manhattan by train—out-of-date design and complete lack of winter weatherization meant it was within the couple’s budget. And, although they would be working within tight financial constraints, ripping out the whole interior gave them the opportunity to design the home as they saw fit and to prioritize the things that were most important to them.


Because their main concern was connecting the home to nature and bringing in light, Taka spent a lot of time analyzing the home’s relationship to the sun—this meant tracking its path over the 2.5-acre property and designing windows and skylights to take advantage of the light- and tree-filled views.

To stick to their budget, Christina and Taka took inspiration from traditional Japanese design, which leaves much of the structure exposed and uses basic materials. “We wanted to keep it bare minimum for monetary reasons, but we wanted to keep the design intent,” Taka says. “That’s when the Japanese influence and loft attitude came in.” A third-generation architect born and raised in a one-room farmhouse on the island of Ishikawa in Japan, Taka didn’t just draw inspiration from Japanese buildings in designing his home. He also took a cue from Japanese culture, where one-room homes are common and multiple generations often share the same space.

Rather than spending money on expensive design elements, Taka and Christina decided to emphasize the site’s natural beauty—and to make its connection with the outdoors the most remarkable element of their home. “We knew going into the construction we couldn’t afford expensive materials, but if we looked outside we had many beautiful things,” Taka says. “We kept most existing structures exposed, and many of the materials are easily available through the local hardware store—nothing fancy. What we spent time on was the proportion of the windows and the relationship of space and sun. The movement of the sun is really ideal in our house, and therefore we spent a bit of extra money on the windows and skylights.”

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