An Aoyama House exemplifies a synergetic architect and client relationship

A client’s faith in his architect pays dividends in Aoyama House; a light-filled, effortlessly elegant Tokyo home

Aoyama House dining space interior
Keiji Ashizawa's Aoyama House
(Image credit: Tomooki Kengaku)

The trust a client puts in an architect is directly reflected on the finished building. Try to take control of every tiny little detail and you will probably end up with a lot of good intentions, but a mixed bag of half-baked ideas. Give the architect the freedom to experiment around a good brief and your chances of ending up with something unique, pushing the boundaries of what architecture can do, are much higher. 

Keiji Ashizawa’s latest residential project in Aoyama is a good example of a long and trusting relationship between a Tokyo real estate family and one of the city’s most sought-after architects. ‘I started working with the father of the family a number of years ago,’ says Ashizawa. ‘After a couple of smaller restaurants, I was asked to design a dentist’s office for the younger brother, and this led to a commission for this house for the older brother and his family.’ 

Aoyama House dining space interior

A series of high windows allow morning light to create beautiful patterns on the wall of the double-height living area, which is illuminated at night by a large Gino Sarfatti chandelier

(Image credit: Tomooki Kengaku)

A refined Aoyama House by Keiji Ashizawa

Having known his clients for a long time, Ashizawa had a clear idea of what they liked, and from their side, the clients knew they were in safe hands with Ashizawa. ‘We, of course, discussed what was needed in terms of floor plan and some basic design ideas, but other than that, we had a lot of creative freedom,’ says the architect.

The house sits on a 150 sq m corner plot in Aoyama, one of the most fashionable neighbourhoods in Tokyo. With its pale yellow stucco finish and private balconies, the house looks relatively plain from the outside, but step inside, and it delights with its choice of materials and eclectic selection of modern art and furniture. 

Aoyama House interior

Dark walnut cabinetry adds warmth to the open-plan kitchen

(Image credit: Tomooki Kengaku)

What instantly draws the eye is the unique araidashi poured concrete walls. ‘This was a first for us. We were a bit worried about how it would turn out and what the response of the client would be,’ Ashizawa admits. Araidashi is a traditional Japanese technique typically used on mortared floors or walls. Small stones are mixed in with the cement and, before the mortar sets, a stiff brush is used to reveal parts of these stones. For this to work on concrete, the builders used a pressure cleaner to wash away parts of the outer layer right after the formwork was removed. The result is an unapologetic, raw terrazzo-like surface that adds interest to what could easily have been a bland concrete finish. Combined with plastered walls, the louvred concrete ceiling and the grey floor tiles, it’s a textural approach that really makes the interior stand out.

Most of the wooden fixtures are made of dark walnut, which adds warmth to an otherwise cooler colour palette. Details, such as the carefully-designed recessed door handles, bespoke lighting, and the elegant metal and walnut spiral staircase, further add to the overall experience of the space.

Aoyama House staircase and skylight interior

Aboudia’s 'Dream of a Car' sits above an antique Japanese chest of drawers on wheels in the living room

(Image credit: Tomooki Kengaku)

Ashizawa also paid particular attention to bringing in natural light. In the spacious basement that functions as a lounge/office, a series of fixed windows, placed at ground level below the louvred façade, let in soft, indirect light via an opening hidden behind a beam. In the morning, a series of skylights create beautiful patterns on the north-western wall of the double-height, first-floor living area. Both the main bedroom and the living area have large, north-facing windows and, combined with planted terraces out front, this manages to conjure up a feeling of space, wide views and greenery, despite the home being in the middle of the city. 

The client’s art and furniture collection elevates the interior further. A large, backlit painting by Julian Opie greets visitors in the hallway, while a work by Todd James adds a touch of colour to the kitchen. 

Aoyama House looking out

Views of greenery and the sky make this house feel serene

(Image credit: Tomooki Kengaku)

Meanwhile, a collection of vintage Pierre Jeanneret dining chairs make a perfect match for the impressive dining table, made from a single, solid slab of keyaki, a Japanese hardwood. ‘We had actually used this very piece of wood at a store that ended up closing, but it was just too beautiful a piece to let go, so we decided to repurpose it into a dining table,’ says Ashizawa.

Ashizawa is already working on a further two commissions for the same family – one is another home in central Tokyo, the other is a retreat in the suburbs. Trust, it seems, is as important in architecture as in any other walk of life.

A version of this article appears in the April 2024 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

Originally from Denmark, Jens H. Jensen has been calling Japan his home for almost two decades. Since 2014 he has worked with Wallpaper* as the Japan Editor. His main interests are architecture, crafts and design. Besides writing and editing, he consults numerous business in Japan and beyond and designs and build retail, residential and moving (read: vans) interiors.