Thursday, 3 November 2011

Just like a piece of furniture

The TV is probably going on the west wall. Not that it's really any business of the architects or builders where we're going to put our TV. They should just be building a house with various suitable spaces for one to be placed.

Because of the structure and the need to support the upstairs over the large open space downstairs, the west wall has bits of wall sticking out for a bit less than a metre every metre or two along the wall. 

Actually, they're sticking out three shaku. A shaku is a Japanese foot, which is within one percent of an Imperial foot. Apparently the Chinese shaku, known as "chi" has been defined as one third of a metre, while back in 1891 the Japanese shaku was defined as 10/33 m. The Japanese word and character come from the Chinese, probably Cantonese where the pronunciation is now "chek". As is usual with traditional units, the shaku, chek or chi varied widely around the sinosphere. The supporting walls are mostly spaced 6 shaku appart, which is the kan of the building. Actually, in the middle of the house there is only half a kan. Between each of these we have storage place, starting with a shoe cupboard to the right of the entrance at the West of the North wall where there is a genkan. The "kan" of "genkan" is not related to this kan, in case you wondered.

Shoe cupboards, known as geta bako, literarlly "clog boxes", are de rigeur in Japanese houses, as everyone takes their shoes off as they come inside. The genkan has the strange quality of being inside the building, but still outside as people have their shoes on. Especially in rural areas, people will come through the front door into the genkan willy nilly, but only proceed into the house when invited to agaru, or "ascend". This may contribute to the confusion with thermal envelopes and the somewhat alien notion of drawing a line to keep heat inside or outside the building. It's ironic that a culture with such strong concepts of "inside" and "outside" from groups of people to shoes seems to fail to apply this to architecture.

Continuing down the west wall, to our ultimate goal of the furniture in the title, the next kan contains a wardrobe for coats. The geta bako was set in a little bit, as shoes are shorter than coats are wide. Through the door and into the living room, there is another, narrow wardrobe, taking up the extra half kan. This was going to be a cupboard top and bottom with a shelf between, but a wardrobe seemed like a better idea. Perhaps for guests' outer garments, although I suspect it will immediately be full of our own, unless we start getting good at throwing clothes away pretty quickly.

Now firmly in the living room, we have two kans of shelves and store cupboards. The plan has always been to have a low shelf with cupboards beneath it, onto which we can put a TV and other audio visual equipment. As we are not sure exactly where the TV may end up, there is a slot at the back of each shelf, where cables can protrude, and there is a hole in the perpedicular wall between the two kan so that we can connect any equipment wherever it end up. I need to remember to ask for another hole into the next wardrobe, and a hole from there through the ceiling up to where the computer is likely to be.

One complication with this west wall is that it is not at right angles to the north or south wall, and each piece of protruding wall, following the beams that cross the house East to West, is at an angle that is not 90 degrees. This is not such a big problem on the left side, where the angle will be more around 95 degrees, but to the right, the acute angle would cause various problems for the carpenter, and it has been straightened. 

Above the low shelf there are also to be some high shelves that can be varied in height. We found out last week that the rails for these shelves would be in painted walls, but we managed to remedy this and get wooden panels on each side, so the effect will be like pieces of furniture. 

For a while the cupboards at the bottom were going to join in the middle, so the whole thing would have looked like one piece of  furniture, but this may have looked a little strange. The structure has a pillar going from roof to floor, and if this pillar sat on top of opening doors, it would have looked strange, at least to me. It would have seemed like we were trying to hide the structure and disguise it as a piece of furniture. Perhaps I would be the only person who would notice this, but as I'm going to be walking past and looking at it every day, it's a fairly important consideration.

So now we have the desired effect of what appears to be two nice pieces of furniture slotted into the spaces in our wall. In fact looking at the care and craftsmanship that has gone into them, they don't just look like two nice pieces of furniture, they ARE two nice pieces of furniture.