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Sunday, June 10, 2001

Chic designs enliven condominium choices


Staff writer

With its outside walls clad entirely in wooden louver boards, a four-story building that opened last week in Tokyo's quiet Tomigaya residential district could easily be mistaken for a chic new gallery or boutique.

Chic it is, but rather than being an arty space, it's another example of a trend -- that is, harnessing the arts of design to the living-space demands of those no longer content to live in a few small, cubic rooms.

Called Luceria, the complex is one of a growing number of "designer mansions" currently beloved of trendy lifestyle magazines and stylish young people -- typically singles and couples in their 20s and 30s with no children -- who disdain blocks of identical apartments.

Despite rents ranging from 93,000 yen for a 20-sq.-meter unit to 280,000 yen for a spacious, 64-sq.-meter pad, there were more than three applicants for each of Luceria's units, meaning the lucky (and unlucky) tenants had to be decided by lottery.

Entering through the mansion block's glass doors, it's not hard to see from the start why people were lining up to live in this corner of Shibuya Ward. In its futuristic elevator hall, the sun streams down through a high glass ceiling onto white spiral staircases. The units on every floor are of different sizes and layouts, but each features wooden flooring, white-painted walls, wooden sliding partitions and indirect lights. Rooms facing north have large skylights to let in as much sunshine as possible.

"Until several years ago, people had to be content with living in uniform apartments because they had no choice," says Akiyoshi Yonemitsu of Alpha Planner, a Roppongi-based real-estate agency that has pioneered this type of complex. "Now, they know they have options, although these new types of apartments are still rare."

But sadly for those dreaming of a customized condo, he adds: "I don't think designer mansions will become widespread in the future because they cannot be mass-produced. In short, it would not pay."

At present, due to the detailed architectural design and more building labor involved, some designer mansions cost 10-20 percent more to rent than their conventional counterparts, says Seiko Narahara of Linea Co. Ltd., another agency that deals with many designer mansions, including Luceria.

As Yonemitsu points out, though, while "ordinary" apartments are designed by in-house architects as the "products" of general contractors, their designer cousins tend to be unique creations. Often they feature high ceilings and patios, bare concrete or plaster walls, aluminum railings and even spiral staircases to a loft.

"Simply put," says Narahara, "they are a lot more stylish."

She believes Japanese people had previously been "too indifferent" to their living environments.

"Today, people care very much how they live," she says. "And I think this is reflected in the popularity of designer mansions."

And if you lost out in the latest lottery but still have designs on a designer home, Narahara has this tip: "The popularity depends on the location. The convenient central Tokyo area is very popular, but if you look in surrounding areas, you may well be able to get a very nice one at lower cost."



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