Japanese minimalism meets Scandinavian design in Karimoku Case Study
The Azabu Residence by Keiji Ashizawa and Norm Architects’ Frederik Alexander Werner is part of the Karimoku Case Study project, and features a sombre material palette and restrained colour scheme for a peaceful family interior
Karimoku Case Study presents the Azabu Residence project, the fourth in its series of houses and furniture collections, designed by long-term collaborators Keiji Ashizawa and Frederik Alexander Werner of Norm Architects.
The project features the makeover of a family apartment in Tokyo’s Azabu neighbourhood, on a quiet, residential hill tucked away between Roppongi and Shibuya. The peaceful interiors combine Japanese minimalism with a Scandinavian design approach, merging the two aesthetics with sombre palettes and refined materials such as stone and wood.
Karimoku Case Study: honest craftsmanship and contemporary design
Karimoku Case Study is a branch of Japanese furniture manufacturer Karimoku, led by Ashizawa and Werner and created in collaboration with local craftsmen. Each capsule collection is presented through immersive interiors, with previous projects including a café for California brand Blue Bottle Coffee in Yokohama and a minimalist house on the Swedish archipelago. Each interior features bespoke furniture and a shared approach that combines the two creative identities into well-blended spaces.
‘It’s always been a clear part of our vision to show that our furniture collections can be used across many different settings and that a piece of furniture can evolve based on the real needs we meet in new cases,’ explains Werner. Case in point: a chair designed for the duo of apartments that debuted the Case Study project later evolved into bar and counter stools for the Blue Bottle Yokohama café project.
Japanese interiors infused with Scandinavian aesthetic sensibility
The Azabu Residence’s subdued material palette combines with a minimalist colour scheme to create an apartment interior that Werner describes as ‘like a cosy, intimate and protective cave for human dwelling’.
‘Some of the elements that tie together our [Case Studies] are of course rooted in our design philosophy,’ continues Werner. ‘Craftsmanship, honest materials, a timeless and cross-cultural appeal are in focus, as well as striving to serve real needs with human wellbeing in the centre.’
He and Ashizawa also found inspiration in the essay on Japanese aesthetics, In Praise of Shadows, by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki: ‘I wanted to work with the shadows rather than against them, and hence focused on a darker material scheme,’ Ashizawa explains.
‘We have striven to show that shadow-filled spaces and the use of darker materials can create more cave-like experiences, where one can find a sense of calm and retreat from the buzzing and sometimes stressful cities that so many of us live in,’ adds Werner.
The furniture created especially for the apartment follows this principle, with dark stained wood and traditional joinery techniques used for a minimalist bench, large dining table and stools, and for the white-upholstered modular sofa, which dominates the airy living room.
Throughout the space, the combination of Scandinavian and Japanese aesthetic sensibilities is evident, and the long-term collaborators have often appreciated their shared cultural values and incorporated them into their design projects. Says Werner: ‘There is without doubt a mutual appreciation of the natural. We believe that natural materials “touch” us as humans on a deeper level – not only as experienced with our eyes, but with all of our senses.’
This is a sentiment echoed by Ashizawa: ‘We both live on islands and sometimes need to face the harshness of nature. That might be a reason why our sensibility towards materials has become alike.’ §