To those of my loyal readers who’ve been wondering what happened to me the past few months, thanks for your concern. No, I wasn’t on an extended tea-picking trip to Nantou (although reports on that are coming soon), and no, I wasn’t flattened by a city bus running a light on Chung Shan N. road (almost – I was just a bit too quick for him!!). I was, in all honesty, hanging out around the house. We’ve moved into a new place, and I have been converting the main living room and balcony into a tea room, which is now open for business!
We’re still in our Xindian mountain community, just down the road from the old place. This house is 3 stories, but is built below the road, so that we actually enter the house on the 3rd floor, which is where the tea room is.
The first order of business was to install my trademark tatami platform on the covered balcony. I built this one about 2′ (60cm) high so that I’d have plenty of storage space underneath, and also so that guests can see comfortably out the windows as they enjoy their tea.
Here are some photos of the construction process. They don’t use regular 2x4s’ here - they use a hardwood of smaller dimensions (I’ve been told it’s a type of mahogany), but it holds up pretty well. I anchored the main beams either to the wall (with concrete anchors) or the steel roof supports (with large-caliber self-tapping metal screws), so it’s very solid.
I doubled up on the legs for extra support, then added braces to stabilize everything. I am using 1″ plywood sheets for the deck, so I created 3 main sections to support most of weight, with removable cross pieces in each section. This way, I can easily take up the deck to access the storage underneath.
Here’s what my temporary tea set up looked like - due to ‘material procurement difficulties’, there was a 3-4 week break in construction, and of course I had to drink tea somewhere during that time! It’s also a good example of how you can quickly arrange a nice ‘nook’ for tea in just about any setting.
This is the largest tearoom I’ve made (#8 in the past 10 years – we move a lot!), and since it was square, I got all new matching tatamis for it. Having my mats all one size makes it easy to change configurations, and gives the room a more balanced look as well. It also allowed me to use two of the old mats along the side wall, which is a design technique I may have pioneered! The entryway you see above is actually where the sliding glass windows should go – the balcony was originally outside the house, but was roofed over by a previous tenant. I took out the windows, and will frame in the doorway with bamboo (someday).
I got this seed from Aliang – I had the Chinese name to translate, but have lost it so I’ll need to ask him about it again. He just soaks it in water, and after a few weeks it sends out roots and starts to grow. The plant doesn’t get very big out of soil, but it adds a nice ‘organic’ touch to the tea room.
The other advantage the larger square room has is that it allows me to be more creative with my arrangements. I can adjust my tea board placement to give my guests different viewing angles depending on the situation, so that no two tea sessions are ever the same!
For the main room of the teahouse, I wanted to have a table-and-chair arrangement for those who aren’t comfortable sitting on tatamis for long periods, and also to have a place to serve snacks (rule #1: no food on the tatamis!!). I used my low table there while I was working out a plan to do something more interesting.
I was lucky to find a large slab of Formosa Pine through a farmer I know in Taoyuan County. It is 9′ (2.8m) long, 4″ (10cm) thick, and averages 18″ (50cm) wide. It had some deep grooves cut into it, so working it into shape took quite a bit of time. I used an angle grinder to dig out the grooves and smooth the sides, then borrowed a belt sander for the top, but it still took several weeks of part-time work to finish.
One of the things I learned on this project is that woodstain really isn’t part of my skill set! Be that as it may, I’m very happy with the results, and am enjoying my new table immensely. The original piece of wood was much longer, so when Mr. Gao cut it down to fit my living room, I also had him cut the excess piece to make the legs, which are just two slabs joined together at right angles. I’ve still got some smaller projects to do before we’re ready for a ‘grand opening’, but at least now things are far enough along that we can have people over. For seating, I made benches from some of my old tatamis, so I have both the look and feel of tatamis, plus the comfort of a chair.
Here’s what my hydroponics project currently looks like (it began sprouting about 2 months ago). It will be interesting to see how large it can get. And of course, the best part of the whole arrangement, is the view from the tatami room looking out the window: