A collection of bijou hotels bolster the city’s status as a design destination
The ancient city has long been synonymous with temples, teahouses and craftsmanship, but Kyoto is also a hotbed of innovation and contemporary design. Testimony to this? The flurry of small, impeccably designed boutique hotels that have recently opened their doors across the Japanese city.
Their arrival has most likely been fuelled by Kyoto’s soaring visitor numbers and the nationwide hotel boom in the countdown to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They also reflect a growing appetite among discerning travellers for an intimate experience of the city that goes beyond the confines of more conventional luxury hotel setups.
These mini-hotels – some with just a single guestroom – may vary in style and form, but all offer a unique insight into Kyoto’s flair for combining traditional craftmanship with contemporary design. Here, we round up some favourites.
Created and owned by Tokyo architect Nobuyuki Fujimoto, Malda Kyoto opened last November on quiet but central Aneyakoji Street, where it sits in a 48-year-old building behind a clean-lined facade of latticed sugi cedar wood. The seed for its creation may come as some surprise: it’s directly inspired by the works and philosophies of Jurgen Lehl, the late Japan-based German designer famed for his use of organic textiles and sustainable materials.
‘This project aims to be a catalyst for our guests to discover a new way of living – through the space, food, lifestyle products and service, ‘ explains Fujimoto.
A modern, minimalist ambiance threads through the building, which Fujimoto designed alongside architect Shiro Miura, with classic touches ranging from the white shikkui-style plasterwork by Kyoto craftsmen to the noren curtain at the entrance.
The three guestrooms (each spanning an entire floor) are themed on a single colour, from textiles to wall paints: aka (a rich red), ao (a warm deep blue) and sumi (charcoal grey). In addition to the spacious guestrooms is the ground floor cafe, with its single green wall, abstract teak furniture and hanging glass pendant lights, where delicious vegetarian curries and homemade muffins are served. Even the air has been considered: the hotel uses the fragrance Hakudo, a fusion of Japanese botanical essences created by bespoke olfactory design studio Aoiro Design.
What might be the best feature of all is that guests can recreate the Malda look back at home: countless custom-designed Babaghuri products – from the guestroom textiles to the forest green ceramics – can be bought at the Babaghuri Kyoto store just opposite the hotel.
A circular clay bathtub made by ceramic craftsmen, a kitchen counter fashioned from traditional lacquerware, simple, curved rattan seating and an angular bonsai tree – plus, of course, Google Home, Wifi and the latest Amadana kitchen appliances. Welcome to Maana Kyoto, a 100-year-old traditional wooden machiya townhouse where traditional craftsmanship and contemporary Japanese design combine with 21st century comforts.
Opened last year, the luxury rental property was masterminded by two friends and former designers Irene Chang, based in Hong Kong and LA, and Hana Tsukamoto, who lives between New York and Kyoto. Inspired by ‘simple but meaningful’ Kyoto life, the pair set out to create a home for visitors that was both ‘comfortable and cosy’ (it is currently the highest-ranking five-star Kyoto hotel on booking.com).
One particularly sharp move was calling on acclaimed Kyoto architect Shigenori Uoya to renovate and design the interiors, which carefully preserve the atmosphere of the original two-storey two-bedroom wooden house in a clean, contemporary way.
Centre stage is the living room, with its tatami mat floor, low rattan seating by Yamakawa Rattan and a minimal table by Kyoto’s Suya pepped up by the abstract, graphic brushstrokes of an artwork by local fabric-dye artist Takeshi Nakajima.
Other highlights include Jasper Morrison-designed Maruni kitchen counter stools; round glass lights by the artisans of Kyoto’s century-old Miura Shomei; the sakura and maple trees in the small garden; and the abstract ikebana in the genkan entrance.
For fans of the Tokyo-based fashion and textile brand minä perhonen – a blend of quality craftmanship and a Scandinavia-meets-Japan aesthetic – there are few better places to stay in Kyoto than Kyo no Ondokoro KAMANZA-NIJO, opened just last summer.
The wooden machiya townhouse, which dates back 150 years, was designed by minä perhonen founder Akira Minagawa alongside the architect Yoshifumi Nakamura.
The machiya – one of a series of renovated townhouses in Kyoto recently opened by major lingerie company Wacoal – is an airy, contemporary take on a traditional home, sleeping up to four people.
Behind a dark wood lattice facade and tiered grey rooftiles, guests find its comfortable, modern kitchen, simple pendant lighting, aromatic oval-shaped hinoki cypress wood bath and sunny splashes of textiles.
A curved open-plan staircase leads guests to the sleeping areas: the main bedroom with Western-style beds (complete with white fluffy Kyoto Nishikawa bedding), plus a cosy tatami mat room where futons can be unrolled nightly.
In true Kyoto style, the house also overlooks a private garden, which poetically conveys the passing of seasons with its centre-stage 100-year-old plum tree. And to help soak up the Kyoto-with-a-modern-twist atmosphere, there is also a carefully-curated garden library.
Hidden down a small alleyway, just south of the Imperial Palace, an off-white noren curtain and lattice door mark the entrance to HOSOO Residence.
The low-key location belies its finely-crafted interior: the renovated machiya is the brainchild of Kyoto-based HOSOO, a pioneering textile company established in 1688, whose products today fuse traditional Nishijin weaving techniques with a raft of contemporary design and luxury fashion collaborations. HOSOO Residence, which opened in the summer of 2017, is an intimate showcase of contemporary Kyoto craftmanship, finely balanced with the original architecture.
Design features include the centre wall, with its striped plasterwork in gently gradated tones of grey, beige and peach; the upholstery in abstract metallic Nishijin textiles; the bespoke curved lounge chair and coffee table by Copenhagen’s OEO Studio; the long, black stone bath overlooking a white gravel garden; the cloud-like white bedding in the upstairs bedroom among the building’s eaves; the small, serene tatami mat room and the tin tea caddies, handcrafted by the artisans of another local cult brand, Kaikado.
Text / Danielle Demetriou