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!