Friday, June 6, 2014

Construction report! Building my Tokyo kitchen

A post about our work on the space and some of the issues we encountered along the way.

My property was already a beautiful space when I first viewed it, so I was pretty lucky. Many business properties in Japan are let as スケルトン "skeleton" spaces, which means that they are stripped back to the bare concrete for you to build walls, raised floors and your own plumbing and electrics. It's considerably more expensive to renovate a skeleton space than one with the fittings remaining from the previous tenant - unless you don't want to use those fittings and need to pay to rip all those out of course.

Panorama of the space

Casa do Namiki 101 used to be a ceramics shop. It had a gallery-feel about it, big bright windows, wood-effect tiled floor and subtle gallery lighting. It didn't have a kitchen, and so after some deliberation we decided to build a large (for Tokyo) kitchen in the back nook of the space, facing the main window. This would mean people could watch me as I worked, and I'd also have a nice view out of the window.

Where we built the kitchen

I've never actually designed a kitchen before, so working with a builder who would be a bit collaborative with me and provide consulting as well as good work at a reasonable price was important.

My 内装 / naisou / refurbishment budget being what it was, I knew I couldn't afford to be too demanding, but after meeting with a few different people including 大工さん / daikusan / carpenters, space planners who work with teams of designers/carpenters etc, and all-round construction contacts, I was happy to meet with Antonio Canales of Rising Son Express.

Antonio is a long-time Japan resident with years of experience on a range of construction and electric work in Japan from small businesses like mine to larger residential projects involving sets of apartments. American, with good Japanese language and people skills, he works with a team of Japanese colleagues based on the work and budget for the project.

Sketching out plans...

My initial ideas about the space was to have bare concrete walls with the wooden floor in the customer space, with bookcases around a mantlepiece, and perhaps a brown leather wingback chair. The kitchen was to have stainless steel, glass and also white tiles with black grouting, like I had photographed at Mornington Crescent tube station.

Flat white tiles and dark grouting

We ran into some challenges with this plan. The long thin tiles that I wanted were nowhere to be bought, any type of white tiles in fact were impossible to get for a short time in Japan! The tax increase in April meant that people had paid upfront in March for materials for projects in the upcoming months and all stock was already promised out to other people. There was nothing we could do but wait for some of these things until May.

Come May and the tiles arrived! We put them up offset like bricks, not in the more usual to Japan grid pattern. Here they are on the front counter, before and after we put the grout on. My glass screen in place too, my very own sushi counter ;)

Another problem we came across was with my idea about bare concrete walls. This is not as easy to achieve as it might sound - a number of builders I had consulted with advised against it as a waste of time and money, as the backing paper under he existing wallpaper was glued directly to the concrete of the space and would be difficult to remove. In the end I decided to have a go myself with a steamer, and I managed to clear a whole wall... only to find that the concrete under the paper wasn't the pure grey of my imagination but had a whole host of weird and wonderful colours that would look great on a painting, but were probably not the best look for a food establishment.

Instead, concrete-effect wallpaper then, with a slightly heavy heart is what I compromised with. Having worked in the space for a little while now, it has grown on me and I'm quite fond of it.

On one wall, and still to come as a refurbishment, will be some special wallpaper and a set of higgledy-piggledy framed portraits of some of my favourite people. I really fancied having flocked velvet wallpaper in a greenish hue, and got all excited when I found *the original* BBC Sherlock wallpaper from Zoffany available to buy online in the UK! I quickly ordered a few samples to be sent to my sister's house and she sent them onto me...

I narrowed them down to the two samples I liked the best. Recognise the one on the left in the image below? :) But which, oh which, did I end up choosing for that wall.... to be continued! (Once I bring the rolls back in my suitcase.)

Antonio made me a beautiful floor in the kitchen with this water resistant vinyl, which, with my red oven makes the space feel ever so slightly Lynchian :)

Here we've got the counter getting built, the big fridge/freezer in place, and the gas table in the corner. Antonio raised the height of the second-hand cold table and sink to gaijin-friendly 90cm (and my back thanks you, Tony!)

Starting to build up the bookcases and mantlepiece. Woo, moody! Still not sure if there is really space to have a leather armchair in there.

And here we have the largely finished effect. The most beautiful kitchen I've ever owned. It's such a luxury to have a large work surface, big fridge-freezer and 4 oven shelves to work with after struggling in tiny kitchens for such a long time.

On completion of this phase of the project Antonio gave me this amazing clock as a gift! A great craftsman with a sense of pride in his work, and a nice guy too. I'm so lucky :)

Just to think, once upon a time the space was only an idea..!

No comments:

Post a Comment