In this day and age, if you’re going to market and sell a tiny house that’s in the 100 square feet-ish range and is specifically meant to be plopped down in scenic and far-flung locales, you better be damned sure it comes with wheels or is easily transportable.
This isn’t the case with an otherwise lovely, ultra-compact getaway cabin from Muji, the beloved Japanese retailer famous for peddling unfussy “no brand” clothing, housewares, and stationary supplies at nearly 700 stores across the globe. (Muji’s stateside presence, for now, is limited to high-traffic stores in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and the San Francisco Bay area.)
Dubbed Muji Hut, the timber-framed cabin's surprising non-mobility is the very first thing I noticed when spotted at Designboom. Clad in shou-sugi-ban (traditional charred cedar) siding that's impervious to insects, severe weather and whatever Mother Nature throws at it, Muji Hut — dubbed as a “very special little place, all your own” — is an exercise in minimalism: simple, elegant, clean, functional. In other words, it’s pure Muji.
However, the 9-square-meter (98-square-foot) structure’s permanence-suggesting reinforced concrete slab foundation — the “type used in ordinary homes” explains the Muji website — is at odds with the wanderlust-y marketing language used to promote the porch-fronted cabin:
Who hasn’t dreamt of living somewhere they really want to be? The tools to make that dream a reality are now available. It’s not as dramatic as owning a house or a vacation home, but it’s not as basic as going on a trip.
Put it in the mountains, near the ocean, or in a garden, and it immediately blends in with the surroundings, inviting you to a whole new life.
While certainly not impossible to tow and install Muji Hut in a remote, off-grid location that’s enveloped by natural beauty, transporting it elsewhere for a quick change of scenery doesn’t seem to be much of an option. And it’s that very flexibility — the option to uproot and roam — that has made the tiny house movement so popular in North America. Perhaps permanence is a more desired quality in Japan.
Muji does mention gardens as being ideal spots for the boxy, one-room retreat. And using the hut as an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in a backyard does make the most sense. The cabin’s sparse, unadorned design lends it incredible versatility — it could be used as a detached mother-in-law suite, yoga or art studio, home office or the world’s nicest garden shed.
Like me, Rain Noe at Core77 also noticed Muji Hut’s foundation/lack-of-mobility. But he also flagged some other issues with the design that I didn’t initially catch. Interior photos of the space show a wood-burning stove. Excellent! But in reality, the hut’s exterior appears to completely lack a chimney. What’s more, interior photos also depict electric outlets and a floor lamp. However, there’s no mention of electric wiring. Curious.
Noe writes: “As it has no running water, functional climate control nor electricity, it essentially seems like a ¥ 3,000,000 (USD $27,000) hard-sided tent.”
And $27,000 is a certainly a hefty chunk of change for a hard-sided tent with single-pane windows that will surely incur a variety of other costs including permits, site work, etc. (To be clear, Muji Hut will only available in Muji’s home market, with no sales schedule outside of Japan planned.)
This all said, I’m a bit of a Muji fanboy. I use Muji pens, notebooks and notepads. I use Muji travel and toiletry accessories. The neck pillow that I take on long flights is from Muji. I even wear organic cotton Muji underwear. (TMI, I know.)
But a Muji hut?
While the waste-eschewing retailer’s inaugural foray into micro-cabin design is certainly on-brand, I’m left wanting a bit more.
And to be clear, this isn’t Muji’s venture designing and selling prefabricated dwellings.
In addition to unveiling a few one-off modular abodes in recent years, in 2014 the retailer waded into Sears Roebuck & Co. (circa 1910 to 1940) territory when it launched Vertical House, a slender kit home (price tag: roughly $1800,000) specifically designed to squeeze into the super-cramped lots of Japanese cities.