Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Room of One's Own

Anyone who practices tea ceremony for long enough inevitably come to a point where they want to create their own tea space. The tea room is an absolutely crucial part of tea ceremony – the architecture, the design, the colors and shapes all contribute to the mood of a tea ceremony. Anyone who’s been in a tea room will testify that there’s no substitute. And lo, after fifteen years of tea ceremony, I’ve finally arrived at a time and place where I can create one of my own.

If I were going to do this in the absolutely proper way – hire a Japanese carpenter trained in traditional design techniques who is an expert in all of the multitude of rules that apply to the creation of a space like a tearoom and buy only the most traditional materials imported from Japan – I could easily spent tens of thousands of dollars on this room, maybe as high as a hundred thousand dollars. Needless to say, that’s a bit out of my budget range. So, like most American tea practitioners setting out to create their own tea space, I’m pulling together the resources I can and doing it with a little help from my friends and family.

At this point, I’m just beginning the design phase, which in a lot of ways is the most important part. You have to think about every detail – not just the layout of the room, but where the light is coming from, what’s illuminated and what isn’t, what the guests will see when they enter the room; what they’ll see when they’re sitting and drinking tea. How will the hanging flower vase look when a guest is sitting in front of the alcove? Is there a way to adjust the temperature if the room is too hot or too cold? Is there enough ventilation if you’re using a charcoal fire to heat the water?

In my case, we’ve set aside a room in the house that’s going to be the tearoom; there’s just enough space to create a room of four and a half tatami mats (the smaller of two “standard” sizes) with an alcove and a separate mizuya or preparation area. I’d like the room to include a sunken hearth – used in the wintertime to bring the fire closer to the guests and keep them warm. In order for that to happen, we’d have to either cut a hole in the floor (not a popular option with my significant other) or create a raised floor within the room, which is the more likely scenario. The problem with that is that it lowers the ceiling to just a little more than six and a half feet, which should be okay for most guests, but it makes the issue of lighting fixures more important.

The other big design question is how to deal with window access. The way the room is currently laid out, the alcove would be next to the window, so the window would be behind an interior wall (which I’d want to do anyhow because there’s a radiator right in front of the window, and I want to hide that). I can put a window in that wall to let the light through, but then there’s the question of how to access the window if we need to open it or do repairs. What I’m thinking is that instead of a wall, we could install a pair of sliding doors with shoji, so that the light comes through and it provides easy access. Would it look strange to have a door where there’s no actual exit? I think the function would probably trump form in this case.

Anyhow, I’m sure I’ll be writing lots more about this in the coming months. Questions and feedback are certainly welcome!


Marius said...

I'm also hoping to build a tea room in near future. I just need to buy the house first ;) The nice thing is that I get to take in to account that I want a tea room when buying the house.

I think you should lift the floor and allow for the height go decrease to about 180cm, which is the height many traditional rooms are. Taller people just have to bend a bit. Another benefit of this that you should not under estimate is the storage space it will give you. By making a few hatches in the floor, you can access the space under the tea room by just lifting up the tatami. I had one room earlier a nijo nakait, it was amazing how much dogu you can fit under just two tatami. I bet that you (with out knowing how much dogu you own) could fit all your dogu in the space under a yojo-han if you lift the floor up about 30-40 cm. Which you need to if you want to fit a ro in the. Btw: I got hold of a shallow ro, intended mainly for electrical use, but could also be used with sumi. Think it needs about 25cm total. Only thing is that you need to buy Kama that fits in a shallow ro.

For lighting I think I would avoid visible electrical light. I would put some down light in tokonoma, and maybe make a fake window covered by shoji or the straw curtain and fix the light behind it. So that the guest would get the impression that it is naturally lit. Also, it is fazinating how much light a single candle can provide... these days I do tea in a dark room lit only by ambient light or a candle. It might not be the best of light to teach in, but it is very nice for enjoying tea.

Morgan said...

Marius --

Thanks for your comments!

I hadn't thought about the storage issue, but that's a good point; one of the things that the room doesn't have is a lot of space to put dogu (though I've made up for that by taking over part of the attic!).

I'm actually lucky in that the tokonoma will be right next to the room's existing window, so I can put a window in one wall of the toko and it will get natural light. I'm thinking about putting another light on the wall opposite the window, behind a shoji to simulate natural light as much as possible. That way there's no fixture in the ceiling for people to duck around.

Sweetpersimmon said...

Congratulations. What an exciting project. If you will be using the the tea room regularly at night, another lighting option you may want to consider is a wall sconce. Guests won't hit their heads on it and it leaves room on the floor (always a premium in yojohan especially with the ro. I have one in my tea room and my husband made a shoji like box lampshade to go over it so that the light is not so harsh.

性感的我 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Morgan said...


That's what I was thinking about, putting some kind of fixture on the wall. We'll have to see how the wiring works out, but it seems like a good solution.

alexis said...

I am truly looking forward to following your process of building a tea room. It sounds like such a wonderful haven!