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Practical Space-saving Ideas for Small Apartments

Updated on March 11, 2016
My living room a few months after the completion of my kotatsu table.
My living room a few months after the completion of my kotatsu table. | Source

Japanese Style in the Texas Winter

I've decided to move into my living room, permanently. One of the primary reasons would be because of the local utility conspiracy. At one time there was a choice between two utility companies. One was user friendly, reasonably priced and fair in their billing practices. The other, well even with my first experience with them I swore to never give them a red cent of my hard-earned money. Well, somehow, the latter chased the former out of town and we're stuck with their regime. Why, then, am I the only person screaming mad about this?

The line is drawn. In the summer I use only the fan and not the air except for the occasional cooling for which the air conditioning is on for no more than an hour. In the winter, well in the winter I have plans to reduce my bill. For now, I don't set the heat any higher than 75 in the day time and a little higher at night. I love my very warm jamas.

About two summers ago I contracted a local wood craftsman to construct a kotatsu table for me. I lived in Japan when I was very young and have not forgotten the experience. Thanks to that sojourn in the land of the rising sun, I don't wear shoes in the house, I use a kotatsu table and eat sushi. The efficient use of space is another thing I learned on my stay there.

I've decided that the answer to heating the apartment efficiently is to move into my living room and in the evenings close off the two bedrooms. My office will then be relocated to the former bedroom and the living room where I'll sleep. For this I need to up my game on furniture and accessories.

Upping my game on furniture may not be what you think. I already have the kotatsu. I plan to get the Kotatsugake (futon blanket for the kotatsu) and Kotatsushiki (rug for under the table). I have some old curtains with a lovely floral pattern which will make a wonderful quilted blanket for keeping the heat in. A thinner blanket, the shitagake goes between the table frame and the quilted blanket. The table top is then put over this.

Use of the kotatsu table in japan is an economical way to heat the primary living areas in Japanese homes. In the videos and other articles I provide for the futon bed and kotatsu table, notice the size of the rooms and also that the rooms are completely enclosed by walls or doors. There aren't any hallways to heat.

I have a fireplace as well. Once I get an apartment sized load of wood delivered, I'll be all set. So, let's talk a little more about the futon bed and the kotatsu table. The topic is more interesting than you think.

My Jacquo Lifestyle Magazine article offers more tips on using space efficiently.

Tatami whattie?

Do you know what tatami is?

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The Flooring

Oriental Furniture Goza Mat
Oriental Furniture Goza Mat
This is the perfect covering to put beneath the futon bed at night and the kotatsu table in the day time. Two side by side lengthwise will provide ample coverage and can be easily stowed away with the bedding in the day time. Oh, and you can use it for a yoga mat as well.

Sublime Comfort by Night, Invisible by Day

I had the good fortune to be very young when I lived in Japan. My mind was like a sponge and I took in all I could regarding the culture. Even to this day, I still remember those years fondly. My favorite remembrance is the Japanese style bed. Designed for comfort and warmth, it is quite difficult to rise from beneath the plush covers in the morning.

The terminology for each layer in this process of somnial delight is comprised of only a few terms:

  • Futon ~ originally meant a filled cattail cushion. It's use in English is borrowed. With regard to bedding, it encompasses the combination of shikifuton (-buton) and Kakefuton (-buton).
  • Shikibuton ~ the thick padding that is placed on the floor or on the tri-fold mattress.
  • Kakebuton ~ covers the individual(s) on the mat.
  • Mofu ~ a summer blanket.
  • Makura ~ pillow.
  • Tatami ~ a flooring material originally made from rice straw.
  • Tri-fold Mat ~ though not truly traditional, it was already in use in Japanese homes by the late sixties. Prior to its widespread use, the shikibuton was placed directly on the floor tatami flooring.

My use of the japanese style bedding is adapted for use in an american-design home. My home is not floored with tatami panels, so a tatami-like mat suffices and can be used beneath the kotatsu table under the kotatsushiki. I use an american pillow and not the Makura.

You'll find several very useful articles at My Japanese Bed. For a chuckle, have a go at The Futon: Official Furniture Piece of College Romance.

A Lazy Day at the Kotatsu

Photo-manipulated by hub author. Original image from Morguefile.
Photo-manipulated by hub author. Original image from Morguefile. | Source

Setting Up the Kotatsu

Kotatsugake ~ Kotatsu Blanket

Tokyo Nishikawa Reversible Kotatsu futon
Tokyo Nishikawa Reversible Kotatsu futon
The blanket is a must for the kotatsu table. It holds the heat in while one sits at the table. It is placed over the frame of the kotatsu on top of the underblanket (shitagake). The table top is then placed over this arrangement. Some people will sleep while partially positioned under the table. I don't recommend the practice any more than I use an electric blanket.

The Romance of Kotatsu Culture.

The kotatsu table is my answer to the gauntlet thrown by the local utility company. Summer, I have in hand. No air conditioning except for once in a while after sunset for about an hour. It's just me, so I use the fan for cooling in the area I occupy primarily.

Families have a greater challenge with toddlers, youngsters and teens in the house and the occasional spouse, it's just not going to happen that all those folks huddle in the same room. Susie Q is on the cell in her room while clicking away on Facebook. Danny D is in his room with the newest and loudest band rocking his world without the headset. Tommie Terrible Two is occupying a new spot in the house every few seconds with mum close behind. Pappa Joe is enjoying a reread of the days newspaper from his favorite chair in the den.

No easy answers to this one folks. Glad I don't have to provide one. But back to the kotatsu table. Along with my move from the bedroom to the living room, I can close the doors in the other rooms so that the majority of the heat is pumped into the living room and kitchen area. The kotatsu means I can lower the setting on the thermostat and keep my self warmer with the electric heater under the table. I have a fireplace which I intend to use this winter. The bedding can be laid out at night and put away in the morning. My kotatsu was made with screw in legs so I can always dismantle it and stand it against a book case or behind something.

Though I'm not planning to go out of country for a while yet, I find it amusing to read about how foreigners deal with heating in other countries. This article, Ode to a Kotatsu: How to love the Japanese Winter, is rather interesting in that regard. This article provides a nice visual of a kotatsu table in use, Kotatsu: (Staying Warm in Japan).

Kotatsu 101

As with bedding there are a few terms which are necessary to know about the equipment. First is the rug that goes down under the table, the kotatsushiki, to protect tatami flooring and also helps to insulate and keep the heat from being absorbed dissipated by the floor. The kotatsugake is the blanket that goes over the shitagake, or under blanket. The zabuton is a traditional pillow cushion on which people sit to the table.

As you view the various videos and articles, take a look at the size of the spaces that the bedding or table are being used in. The area of my living room and kitchen will be larger than many of those areas you'll see. Enjoy this interesting article on another foreigner's use of the heating table, My Kotatsu Is Fierce.

Sushi on My Kotatsu Table


The Kotatsu Train

Keeping Warm in the Japanese Winter

From what I recall, the Japanese winter was far more brutal than anything I've experienced here in Texas. I lived in a prefecture called Kanagawa in Yokosuka. My family used the kerosene space heaters but not the Japanese style furniture. Our house was a mixture of American and Japanese when you walked in the door. We had a little dog named Buku.

Travel in another country is usually a treat. Residing in another country brings the concept of treat to the next level. One frequently asks oneself, "How do they do that?" So, the fun isin learning how the natives get about their days and accomplish the same tasks in their own different way as you and your fellow countrymen would back home. So take a peak at the article, "Kotatsu."

The kotatsu style table is known in many cultures by different names. The Persians have the korsi, while the Spaniards and Portuguese use a mesa camilla. A few other cultures have their own versions as well.

The Next Layer of Warmth

EMOOR 5-Layered Gauze Blanket (Green), Japanese Twin Size (55 x 82 in). Made in Japan
EMOOR 5-Layered Gauze Blanket (Green), Japanese Twin Size (55 x 82 in). Made in Japan
In the summer this and a top sheet is all that is needed. In winter it aids in keeping the heat in close to the body while sleeping.

Care and Maintenance of Futon and Kotatsu

As with any bedding item, cleanliness is important. For the mattresses, airing is recommended. In an apartment setting, this may be tricky to manage. If you don't have a balcony but have a front porch area or patio, then several laundry racks like the one below will come in handy. Range them in a line lengthwise with about a foot to foot and a half of space between each on. Lay your mattress over top of them. You'll need to flip it several times as well as fold it the other way. The tri-fold mattress can be opened partially and upended on one side. I recommend a tarp or paper or something underneath so it's not sitting on the bare ground. After a point, turn it the other way around.

Launder what can be laundered. The blankets and other linens can be washed. You may get away with airing once or twice for the heavier quilt, but the closer an item is to your body the more necessary it is that it have a washing. I like to dry laundry in the sun when possible, but it has to be a hot day so things will dry quickly even if they are thick or have to be folded to fit over the racks without touching the ground. You can also look into getting a mattress beater designed for the futon if you'd like to go that far.

The kotatsu table itself requires little upkeep. Wiping the table top from time to time is a no-brainer. Also, making sure no lint or other debris has become lodged in the heater unit is important also. The rug can be vacuumed. If it is more like a blanket or a quilt, then launder the under rug. I like the idea of a fibrous rug, like sisal or jute or similarly coarse fibers that goes under the blanket like under rug. Kind of an under under rug. These coarse fiber rugs may also need to have a spot wipe as well.

Check the cord and plug for problems. When not in use, the heater unit should be off and unplugged. Wipe any wood tables with a wood treatment from time to time. Lemon oil would work or something as recommended by the manufacturer.

For my futon, I have in mind to make a pouch filled with lavender and other aromatic dried plants to scent my futon and tri-fold mat when they've been stored away. I've not fleshed out the details of how I'll make it, but it will of necessity have to be rather large to fit over them entirely. Also, the contents will need to be closed in the pouch so as not to make a mess by spilling out of any openings. I think I can devise something like this with velcro.

There's a great article in My Japanese Bed on how to care for your futon ensemble.

Thinking of Building Your Own Kotatsu?

I've compiled a number of links below with information on ways to build your own kotatsu. Unfortunately the website which provided detailed information on how to do so is no longer available. Since the time that I had my kotatsu built a trend in building one from the IKEA Lack coffee table has surfaced. That is a viable option for many people living in countries in which the kotatsu isn't commonly used. One of the links below actually uses two table kits in the process so as to have a table top to go over the quilt.

Please share a picture with me of your kotatsu after you've built it and I'll post it here.

© 2014 Tanya Jones


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