Takashi Kobayashi is out of his tree. The self-taught Japanese designer, carpenter and architect of 120 jaw-dropping tree houses — some sleek modernist cubes, some gnarly fairy-tale cottages — recently unveiled his first Los Angeles work, a small-scale installation of found wood and live plants at In Aqua Veritas, the vintage goods outpost of the Silver Lake home décor store Feal Mor.
“There’s a whole modern-hippie, tree-hugger vibe,” store co-owner Shaheen Plunier said of Kobayashi's designs, which also include T-shirts and a line of the jumpsuits he wears while building tree houses. “Taka has the pure ability to create something functional, like a handicapped-accessible tree house for kids at a medical center [pictured in the related photo gallery], out of nothing.”
Infused with the spirit of 1970s pop culture and West Coast arboreal architects such as Pete Nelson, the designer creates fantasy environments using reclaimed lumber, custom built doors and windows, and stained glass.
“I am a professor of nature,” Kobayashi, who heads a collective called Treehouse People, said during the installation of his L.A. piece. “I am no good at mathematics and science. I always feel the power of the tree. A tree always grows until it dies, and nobody knows how it will grow. So, it’s interesting and difficult. Every location and every tree creates a different problem.”
A former producer of nature documentaries for TV, Kobayashi, 55, built his first tree house in a cedar 25 years ago in Tokyo’s Harujuku fashion district. It now operates as the Hideaway Café with live music and organic food. Commissions followed and he honed his craft. This summer, he will complete a $300,000 tree house restaurant and lounge at a resort on the Izu peninsula of Japan.
“In the U.S., there are many kids who have memories of tree houses in their backyard. In Japan, there are regulations so you cannot sleep in them overnight.” he said. “I have built 120 tree houses and I don’t have one of my own, so that is my dream -- to stay in my tree house and enjoy the quiet moments.”
You can see Kobayashi's installation and a small display about his past work at 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at In Aqua Veritas, 4210 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 661-0614.