Spotlight on Caramel Daikanyama
Green plants. Antique woods. Shafts of sunlight. Minimal concrete. Dusty pink paintwork. Contemporary lighting. Framed prints. Vintage chairs. There are perhaps few boutiques as warm and welcoming – not to mention unique – as Caramel Japan’s flagship, located in Tokyo’s leafy Daikanyama neighbourhood.
The sundrenched space is an exercise in balance – between old and new, Japanese and British – as reflected in its seamless mix of industrial touches, vintage atmosphere and muted paintwork hues. “I think the space creates a feeling of nostalgia, both for children and mothers,” explains Shigeki Hattori, director of Graf, the celebrated Japanese design studio behind the interior.
The Caramel experience begins even before the doors swing open – with a pillar-box red wooden bench outside – a longtime favourite spot for children to sit, read or play while their parents peruse inside. Stepping inside the L-shape boutique, visitors first find themselves in the baby section, with antique wooden tables and glass-fronted cabinets showcasing small but exquisitely formed collections.
One scene stealer is the payment counter, which sits beneath a cluster of white light bulbs hanging from red wires festooned from the ceiling in a abstract display that would not look out of pace in a contemporary art gallery. On the counter, a clutch of wild English-style flowers bursts from a vase, while a small staircase nearby has walls painted a distinct muted pink – a shade that perfectly matches Caramel’s colour palette – decorated with an eclectic assortment of framed prints.
The steps lead to the second space of the store – home to childrenswear, womenswear and interiors – with its clean-lined walls of glass, minimal metal railings, green plants, wood flooring and a carefully curated collection of vintage furnishings (small customers tend to make an immediate beeline for a tiny round children’s wicker chair).
One standout piece is a large antique wooden chest, with narrow sliding drawers marked with numbers in peeling paint and old stickers with the handwritten names of various locations across Britain.
For Hattori, the essence of the space is the balance of minimal Japanese design with the textures of historical England: “A sense of distance is created by the handworn antique furniture. Yet the minimal layout and functionality of the frame furniture also evoke a sense of Japanese modernism.”
The store’s design credentials are not confined to its interiors: the building is housed in Hillside Terrace, a major low rise architectural landmark created by cult architect Fumihiko Maki.
The timelessly modernist complex, which meanders through Daikanyama, was created over a 30-year period from the early 1960s – and remains today a widely respected paradigm of urban development. “Hillside Terrace is a very important place,” explains Hattori. “There are no large shopping malls here and it has a relaxed and unique atmosphere, with small businesses lining tiny lanes. It’s basically the perfect home for Caramel.”
Words and images by Danielle Demetriou