The kodo hotel Is an Architectural Touchstone for Wellness

04.04.24 | By
The kodo hotel Is an Architectural Touchstone for Wellness

Calcium, iron, sulfur, and magnesium. These minerals are just a small sample from the shared elemental composition that links humans to the earth, and yet the hubris of man has led many builders astray from regularly honoring earthen materials. An exception to this rule, however, is the kodō hotel whose concept and creation are quite literally anchored by raw boulders brought on site. The commercial project’s ability to serve as an architectural touchstone for patrons is derived from the synergy between collaborators M Royce Architecture and creative studio Gry Space who harnessed the inherent power of wabi-sabi – the Japanese art of impermanence.

Historic firehouse façade with open bay doors revealing modern interior use.

A person walks by a historic building repurposed as a hotel and cafe with white awnings, labeled "engine co no 17.

Modern courtyard with metal walls and contrasting natural elements.

Located in the Arts District of Los Angeles, California – and the greater cultural context where wellness has been commodified beyond comparison – kodō practices humility at the behest of a client who envisioned a hotel and dining space nuanced in Japanese traditions. Formerly a fire station from the 1920s, interior designers Jen Whitaker and Emi Kitawaki of Gry Space, along with architect Matt Royce of his eponymous practice, usher in a new era. Led by the spirit of omentanashi – reframing hospitality concepts to center around care rather than expectation – the structure is stripped of pomp and circumstance often associated with boutique hotels to focus on the power of intentional design decisions like indirect lighting, purposeful objects, and moments where negative space allows for pause.

Minimalist interior space featuring a decorative ceiling, large windows, and a potted tree.

Modern kitchen with minimalist design featuring a large natural stone island and concrete floors.

Modern minimalist kitchen with neutral tones and an oversized stone island centerpiece.

A minimalist kitchen shelves with neatly arranged dishes and decorative items.

Reconnecting with self is facilitated by unadulterated finishes: massive stones that bear records of natural history, tatami detailing layered atop ash wood furniture, soft-toned interiors that are melancholic rather than somber, and a selection of rare Japanese botanicals. “​​At the core, we are rooted in creating a mood, a feeling that offers calmness and beauty in darkness and solitude in quietness,” says the Gry Space duo. “Raw concrete furniture, giant boulders, kyoto-style gravel, raw steel plates, and countless other subtle touches conspire to create a high design.”

Serene indoor space with natural light, a wooden bench, and a view of an outdoor patio through large windows.

A modern patio with seating next to a historic brick building, viewed from indoors through glass doors.

A minimalist urban courtyard featuring a large flat stone bench, gravel ground cover, and a dark, imposing privacy screen against a brick building.

Modern urban courtyard with fabric shades, concrete seating, and a landscaped area against brick and dark panel walls.

Guests are greeted on the main floor where an open check-in melds with an intimate cafe to initiate the first of many grounding rituals in the fully immersive experience. Coined the kodō cafe, the repurposed fire engine doors can activate the frontage for activities engaging the street. Tatami benches, custom coat racks, and low dining tables crafted by Japanese carpenters Kikka Works are juxtaposed in playful contrast to custom concrete furnishings by Wabi Products borne from this collaboration.

Outdoor dining area with modern concrete furniture and hanging fabric shades.

A minimalist dining setup with a long dark table, simple place settings, and cylindrical hanging lights, against a textured, neutral backdrop.

Adjacent to the hotel proper is the kodō restaurant, an outdoor eatery with a fire pit lounge, omakase sushi bar, and a secluded private dining room – all of which serve to extend the intimacy established upon entry. The rough finish found gracing the walls of this greenhouse-like space leans into the beauty of imperfection – another tenet of wabi-sabi – presenting itself as the fine art architecture it used to be. At its nucleus is a custom constructed, 16-foot, monolithic, live-edge pine table surrounded by six benches that seat up to 20 diners. When not in use, some of the seating can be positioned upright and repurposed as pedestals to display art, ceramics, and food in another nod to impermanence.

Minimalist living room with paper pendant lamps, a black flat-screen TV, and simple furniture against exposed brick.

Modern bedroom design with minimalist furniture and warm lighting.

Modern living room with industrial design elements, featuring a sofa, dining area, and circular wall light.

A minimalist bedroom featuring a white bedding against a light grey wall, with hanging pendant lights, exposed wooden beams, and a large window.

Atop the aforementioned programming is the upper floor, which hosts eight ryokan-style rooms reflective of a traditional Japanese inn. Each private space celebrates the building’s idiosyncrasies while offering respite from the din of the bustling metropolis. All suites come complete with living and dining areas, expansive bathing spaces with custom concrete sinks, open showers delineated by gravel, king-sized futon-style beds with hidden modern technologies to eliminate distraction, and continued styling that borrows from the lobby.

Modern bedroom with ensuite bathroom, featuring minimalist design and neutral tones.

Minimalist bathroom with a monolithic stone sink and mirror, featuring dark textured walls and design elements.

Modern minimalist bedroom with an industrial aesthetic, featuring a concrete platform bed, sleek fixtures, and warm lighting accents.

Modern bedroom with minimalistic design featuring an arched doorway, large circular mirror, and soft lighting.

Notably still is the inherent tie between minimalism practiced here and a conscious intent to achieve sustainability. Beyond the buzzword or rituals of recycling, incorporating durable, raw materials naturally tailored to embrace the passage of time imbues the space with an electricity you cannot get from a homogenous, builder-grade palette. “The massive boulders right at the entrance to the lobby immediately infuse the space with an organic beauty and give a sense of vitality and natural energy as the guests walk in,” says Royce. “The minimalist design elegantly integrates with trees in the common indoor area, as well as the choice art and graphics, and together they cultivate a serene and almost spiritual ambiance throughout.”

For more information on the kodō kotel, visit To learn more about each creative practice, visit and

Photography by Gry Space.

With professional degrees in architecture and journalism, Joseph has a desire to make living beautifully accessible. His work seeks to enrich the lives of others with visual communication and storytelling through design. Previously a regular contributor to titles under the SANDOW Design Group, including Luxe and Metropolis, Joseph now serves the Design Milk team as their Managing Editor. When not practicing, he teaches visual communication, theory, and design. The New York-based writer has also contributed to exhibitions hosted by the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture and Architectural Digest, and recently published essays and collage illustrations with Proseterity, a literary publication.