Azumi Setoda inherits the legacy of Horiuchi-tei, a 140 year old estate that originally belonged to the influential Horiuchi Family. Active in the salt trade from the early Edo Period in the 17th century, the family expanded to become the largest salt barons on Ikuchijima island by the Meiji Period. Their estate’s proximity to the Setoda port, and the island’s location in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea, made for an optimal location to operate ships that carried salt – and later coal – across the Kitamaebune route from the Seto Inland Sea up to Hokkaido.
With charming ocean views just a stone’s throw away, the estate was also ideal for entertaining important business partners. From the port, guests could enjoy the red pines, pin and Chinese cork oak trees on the neighbouring islands of Omishima, known for its exceptionally old shrines and as a center of ancient spiritualism.
To symbolize the Horiuchi family’s influence, when they began the process of building their compound, they decided to find the best craftsmen and ingredients from around the country. Carpenters from the cosmopolitan Kyoto, who were at the forefront of style and quality, created a masterpiece of craftsmanship to every last detail, such as astonishingly thin shoji screens.
The biggest testament of quality however, is its durability—the fact that the estate was in good condition to be restored, rather than rebuilt, 140 years after construction.
With the next century of the estate’s life in mind, Azumi entrusted Kyoto-based architect Shiro Miura with the renovation. An expert in private residences and trained in the sukiya style of Japanese architecture, Shiro balances the elements of a homey atmosphere with aesthetics rooted in tea ceremony, which date back to the 16th century. While stylistic predecessors are concerned with following traditional methods to the highest degree of accuracy, the sukiya style recognizes gradual change, offering a flexible framework that integrates historical forms with new techniques and materials.
One of the goals of the restoration was to rebalance the relationship between moisture, wind, and light. Shiro treats his primary materials of wood, stone, and soil as living materials. This is exemplified by the way they bend, break, and change color at their own will, and reflect the conditions of the environment. For this reason, Shiro considers elements far beyond the walls of the estate; he also considers the nearby ocean and damp climate of the region, as well as the garden’s role in bringing in and taking out mist, fog and sunshine. He contemplates how the building breathes.
Another defining element of the restoration is that every guest room has its own small outdoor area – either a private garden, generous balcony, or combination of both. Each one is unique and well secluded, thanks to a bold, unconventional take on the traditional kakine fence. The kakine draws a seamless gradient of private and communal spaces within the property. With each movement of the sun and turn of seasons, light and wind dance over and through the kakine, creating a play of light and shade.
Azumi’s renovation efforts extend beyond the walls of Horiuchi-tei. As the central presence of the town, one of the Horiuchi Family’s legacies was their
contribution to the local economy, and by extension, the culture. For this reason, Azumi also undertook the development of a public bathhouse, yubune,
which is located across the street. Here, Azumi guests and Setoda locals relax in lemon baths.