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Using Natural Wood to Open up an Apartment and Make It Look Bigger

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Two homes show you how it's done

The use of natural wood to open up and make the most efficient use of a small living space is now officially a trend, at least in Japan, and may soon see even wider adoption. Here are two more examples—one just outside Tokyo and one in Hong Kong—of plain wood employed to great, room-widening effect.

The first home is a small Japanese apartment renovated by architects Tomoko Sasaki and Kei Sato, founders of 8 Tenhachi. The couple decided to open up their 721-square-foot space first by stripping the interiors to expose its concrete walls and removing all partitions to create one large cooking, working, and living area. A long Japanese cedar table acts as a multifunctional connector that can be used as a kitchen surface, a study space for the adults, and a drawing spot for the children. Then, they put in two wooden "boxes" with cutout entrances to establish the private spaces: one for the bathroom, and one for a slightly-recessed bedroom.

Neither makeshift room reaches the main ceiling, which was a deliberate choice by the architects, who wanted to distinguish the additions from the original concrete structure. Oak boards make up the "walls" of the bathroom as well as the floor, and exposed wooden beams run along the bedroom's ceiling. A ladder leads up to the children's play and sleep areas.

The second renovation comes out of Hong Kong from the architects at Bean Buro. While the home is significantly larger than the one above, the project concept was similar: gutting a 2,000-square-foot corridor of an apartment by removing the inner walls and creating a light-filled open space instead.

Where the Tokyo home inserted boxes into the space, this apartment fabricated foldable accordion-like partitions that could be manipulated into different types of rooms. For instance, a hobbies room could be transformed into a private guest room, or simply left open. The architects used Belgian timber with a natural finish to fashion the partitions, shelves, cabinets, and niches.