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The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas For Living Well In Limited Space    by Azby Brown order for
Very Small Home
by Azby Brown
Order:  USA  Can
Kodansha International, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This beautiful coffee table book is full of ideas, lovely photographs and architectural drawings, based on 'Japanese Ideas For Living Well In Limited Space' (and anyone who has been to Japan knows that space constraints are a big part of life there). The author, Azby Brown, an architect, professor and journalist who lives and works in Japan, has featured eighteen projects (all recent and mostly varying from 850 to 1,200 square feet) that range from the traditional to the futuristic.

Glancing through the photos, it seems to me that the key to these designs is that, though the homes are small, layout and lighting are such that they don't look or feel constrained. And they are all designed to blend into, and exploit surroundings like a panoramic view or tall treetops. Brown tells us that most successful small house designs 'rely on one primary Big Idea', and that it's 'all about developing a design that takes our own life story and enhances the good parts, maybe adding a few passages about who we want to be.' He also mentions the Japanese tradition 'in which one or two luxurious details can set the mood of the room'. His book is offered as a source of 'endless possibilities' and the author tells us to 'Dare to be small!'

Brown states that it's the details of a well-designed small house 'that make it truly livable and add character.' At the back of the book, he delves into details of Kitchens, Bathrooms, Partitions, Light, Nooks for privacy, and (essential in any home, but especially in a small one) Storage. I noted many intriguing ideas in these eighteen designs - a pull-out work surface in a kitchen, underfloor storage in a raised floor, corridors floored in glass, glass walls to optmize light, and different convertible spaces. There's a 'Glass Shutter House' that can open two sides to the elements, and many homes have surprising exteriors, some with unusual cantilevers. I love the focus on a magnificent view of the 4 x 4 House, and the traditional look of the 1,200 square foot Kugenuma House, built on a long driveway!

It's amazing what a good architect can do to make a small space elegant, attractive and full of light, as well as highly functional. Even if you have a larger home, many of these ideas can apply to a small room in it. If you dare to be small, as Brown suggests, then have a look at The Very Small Home - it's an informative and engaging presentation.

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