The Gardener Who Builds Houses

There’s an unusual plant shop in Totsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, called Interparts. With “feeling good” as its base, the company helps design lifestyles that take Japan’s climate, environs, and landscape into account. “Interparts” is a contraction of “internal parts” which signifies parts that help people and plants to feel good from the inside. These parts combine to form a harmony that blends into the scenery. They call themselves landscapers. But what they do is take the landscape past the front yard and straight into the heart of their clients’ homes. Interview by Takafumi Suzuki
Translation by Claire Tanaka
Special thanks to Tetsuya Hiramoto

The shop interior is crowded with plants and plant pots. Almost all of the pots were designed by Mr. Noguchi personally.
Interparts sells plants and plant pots, as well as doing design and surprisingly, even building houses, isn’t that right? Yes. At first, we were making plant pots with Japanese forms in mind, which would also be a good fit for house plants. We used a metal hibachi mold to cast plant pots, and made bonsai pots out of plaster, things like that. We started from there and expanded to plants, landscaping, and to architecture. We wound up thinking about the whole aesthetic balance and that’s where we ended up. It’s a mistake to think about design or architecture while you sit at your desk. All the parts are born from the site. If a gardener brings all the necessary parts to the site from his perspective, that’s where reciprocal action can occur, and a comfortable space is born. Where did you learn about plants and landscaping? I did have a teacher who I respect very much who was a gardener, but basically I just learned by playing. (laughs) Messing around and getting dirty, scraping my knees. That’s how I learned. My father was a hobby gardener, and he loved plants. I learned with my body the goodness of nature, how random, crooked forms can be beautiful. Designers and architects are always quick to say “We’ve got to be kind to nature!” but they don’t understand the feelings of plants, so they wind up planting trees at rigid, regular intervals. It’s not natural. If you take into account the way sunlight filters through the trees, you know they don’t grow like that. Also, I was quite influenced by California’s Sea Ranch.
Gardens designed by Mr. Noguchi. A Japanese feel, but with attention to functionality and incorporating the space into daily life.
Sea Ranch? What’s that all about? Don’t destroy the view, don’t destroy the land, don’t move the rocks. And how to have people live in harmony with that philosophy. It was a giant experiment held in California. How does the wind blow, how do the waves move, how to work with the climate and land when you build a house. It was an experiment where landscape, land and architecture were considered together. You should look it up. It’s quite interesting. *See here for more information on Sea Ranch So you build homes which are influenced by Sea Ranch. But I still think it’s unusual that a gardener would be building homes… Yes. I was at Nichigei (Nihon University College of Art) studying formative design. But there wasn’t really anything that excited me there, and I didn’t want to become an artist or a designer. But there was one architect who was always doting on me, so I’d go hang out at his office, and I learned a lot just from being there. Also, often when I needed to know something or had an interest in something, I’d go to the library and look it up on my own.
Homes that Interparts has been involved in making. There is an element of Japanese old family homes, but with casual, unique overtones. Naturally, Interparts designed the gardens as well.
How are you involved exactly in the building of a house? Well, I’m not a licensed architect, so first I make a plan. I base it around the landscape, first looking at the land, looking at the view, and then I take the budget into account and draw some sketches. Then I decide what kind of building materials to use. I start with the garden and think about what kind of house to build from there. When you come home from the beach, where are you going to wash your dog, what are you going to do when you take your garbage out, are the water pipes getting corroded from sea water and salty breezes, how does the wind blow, I look at all of that. For example, here in Shonan there is a certain kind of land and lifestyle so I take that into account and design a house to suit it. Then I have the detailed building plans drawn up by a licensed architect. You’ve taken the Sea Ranch way of thinking and adapted it for Japan. Yes. I went to America in 1973, and I thought, what they do in America, why can’t we do it in Japan? I was in America and Hawaii for seven years, but I don’t want to be American. You might be from Saitama or Chiba or Kyushu or Kamakura, wherever you grew up, you’ve got to be proud of it. Don’t put down your heartland. You can make a nice living environment anywhere, is my thinking. It didn’t have to be first class, I just wanted to make a house that was like it had sprouted up from the earth. That was my way of thinking when I started working.
The entrance to the home is light-filled and spacious. There are references here to the doma space in old Japanese homes.
But it must have been quite hard financially to go to America back in the seventies? My father was the one who helped me out with that. He said I should experience lots of different things while I was young, and he sent me to America. Halfway along, we had a fight and stopped talking for a long time, but my father likes gardening, so when it comes to plants, we can talk for ages. Have you been living in Totsuka ever since you came back? No. From 1985 until 1993, I had an Interparts store in Jingu-mae. I had a really great landlord there. He actually asked me to set up a shop there. He was really rich and living in the building himself, so he didn’t want to let in any shady businesses. He invited me to go there, and I said, “I can’t afford the deposit” and turned him down, but he said “you can pay me whenever” and let me in without one. (laughs) The shop did really well, but I stopped being able to feel good about working there, so I quit.
Interiors of homes Interparts was involved with. Simple and breezy, with a practical, livable atmosphere.
What? That’s quite a choice, voluntarily closing a shop that was doing well. The work
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I had to do just to manage the company had increased, and I started losing weight due to stress. My hard work was no longer paying off. Originally, I had wanted to do landscaping, and my job had turned into more of a distribution business, so there didn’t seem much point. But then you got an order saying “Please build me a house,” right? Just when you start to think your life is down the tubes, a good person will come along and save you. Someone will stretch a hand out to you. Someone will say, “Wanna try building a house?” (laughs) I had built my own house and shop by myself, a little bit at a time. But an architect came and asked me. “You’ve got a knack for this kind of thing.” He said. People who are capable in their field don’t mince words. Now finally, could you tell me your future vision, if you have one? It’s very important for me to be able to enjoy myself every day. I’m hoping that I can pass on that sense of enjoying onself to some young people, and pass the baton, so to speak. The rich people of my generation are all one pattern. All the people I know who have gotten rich have done the same thing; buy a foreign car, buy a big house, get a girl. The bubble years saw bad money overtake good money. What those people don’t realize is that it’s so much better to spend 5,000 yen on your own mother than it is to spend 100,000 yen on something sketchy. But recently, I’ve seen an increase in the number of young people I can respect. When I talk to them, they’re different from people of my generation. I can’t even imagine what they’re thinking, and that’s pretty interesting.
In the shop are plant pots made by Mr. Noguchi’s trusted craftsmen.
Yoshida-cho 944, Totsuka-ku, Yokohama City Kaoru Noguchi
Born in 1950. President of Interparts. Gardener. Landscape Designer.

  • Earl

    More than anything, I learn about the art of living from artist/craftsmen interviews. Mr. Noguchi is no exception. I enjoy the fact that a thoughtful gardener took on the challenge of designing a house as much as he enjoys what he regularly does for a living. Great article.

  • sherrill

    i always get so inspired by reading about architecture that has a philosophy that is about considering the interior and exterior environments working together. more about architects and interiors!!!

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    It’s nice to read. I really enjoy it.Totsuda-ku -> Totuska-ku

  • tao

    your garden very nice.
    thank you very much

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