Three's A Charm
Intentionallies, Torafu Architects, and Urban Design System collaborate on Tokyo's first boutique hotel, the Claska
Masaaki Takahashi -- Interior Design, 6/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Tokyo is in the grip of a hotel boom. With luxury chains such as the Ritz-Carlton, the Peninsula, and Mandarin Oriental planning to open properties there within the next few years, the number of guest rooms in the capital, currently standing at 35,000, will increase by 5,000 before the end of 2007.
While this invasion of the hospitality giants is having a major effect on hotels of all sizes, several smaller concerns are putting up a David-and-Goliath fight. Using a variety of strategies to emphasize their individuality and make themselves more attractive to specific types of client, these hotels pack a punch that belies their diminutive size.
One such resourceful bantamweight is the nine-room Claska, Tokyo's first boutique hotel, which opened in 2003 and has successfully established itself as the hip place for the design, fashion, and art crowd. It occupies a 35-year-old former business hotel in Meguro, a district filled with furniture and design shops, from antique to mid-century modern and ethnic. Architects Iku Hirose and Yoshitsugu Takemoto, producers at Urban Design System, supervised the renovation of the eight-story building.
"Though a lot of effort went into the project, the aim was to avoid it looking 'designed,'" says Tei Shuwa, director of Intentionallies, which was responsible for the Claska's interior design and furnishings. The firm brought in handmade furniture from Bali and Thailand while also designing original pieces that are subtly Asian in feel without being overtly Japanese.
Occupying the ground floor is reception; the Lobby, a combination restaurant, café, bar, and lounge complete with a DJ booth that draws a young, handsome crowd; a small bookshop selling art and design publications; and an upscale dog-grooming salon, DogMan. The second floor houses a multifunctional gallery space used for fashion shows, music performances, and art exhibitions. The third floor is Platform, a cooperative work space occupied by small art, design, and fashion companies.
The Claska's nine guest rooms occupy the fourth and fifth floors, and no two rooms are alike. On four are the three suites, each more than 1,290 square feet, two of which boast their own private terrace. Above them, on five, are six rooms of more modest size; room 505 has a glass-walled bathroom.
One of the ways the hotel has attracted and maintained its cutting-edge clientele is by offering three floors, six through eight, of residential rooms, 23 in all, for stays of six months or longer. Occupants of these long-term rooms are encouraged to redesign them as they wish, creating spaces that are truly their own, which ties into the hotel's moniker, as Claska is derived from dou kurasuka, or "how best to live."
In 2004, the hotel hired Torafu Architects to remodel three of these rooms so they could be offered on a weekly or monthly basis. None is more than 194 square feet, but each had to accommodate contemporary Japanese artwork, an Aibo (Sony's robot version of man's best friend), furniture, and a guest's belongings.
Torafu designed an ingenious space-saving element for the three rooms: a wall-spanning storage unit in mahogany-veneered MDF. Dubbed the template, it accommodates 35 common items, such as a hair dryer, desk chair, suitcase, and coffee cups, in laser-cut niches, each of which is the same shape as the object for which it's intended.
The template is a functional and witty design statement. Its niches are backlit, so they not only provide storage but also turn items into framed and mounted works of art, complete with their own auras. Even Sony's electronic pooch sits in a glowing kennel-shape cubby. Torafu's wall transforms each room into a cabinet of illuminated curiosities.
Torafu recently redesigned the Claska's roof terrace, which affords panoramic vistas of metropolitan Tokyo. The centerpiece is Torafu's oversize wood table that people can either stand on to admire the view or sit at in surrounding chairs. In good weather, it's a perfect spot for cocktails, sure to become as hip a venue as the Lobby eight floors below.