You know those minimalist rooms that just make you feel really calm even though you are also feeling guilty because you have so much crap that you will never actually have a room that looks like that?
That’s kind of how the new Japanese tea house at The Ringling makes me feel. In it, everything has its place. Honestly just looking at it is pretty calming. The tiny building looks a bit like a shed from behind, made of metal and glass. It’s set on the south side of the campus, near the new Center for Asian Art.
The building is an exhibit only though; they aren’t planning to do actual tea ceremonies there. It’s just too small and delicate.
Inside, the tea house has a four tatami mat floor plan with a center hearth cut out where the kettle would boil. The room has a low ceiling and no furniture — guests would sit on the mats on the floor. They enter through a small, square door called the “nijiriguchi,” which requires guests to bow as they pass through, symbolizing the separation between the quiet interior and the busy world outside.
A separate entrance for the host leads to the small preparation space. At the forefront of the tea house is a small alcove that features a scroll and minimalistic flower arrangements.
“The host of a tea ceremony takes his role very, very seriously,” said Kim Pham, who consulted with folks at The Ringling about the project. “The selection of teaware, the themes set for the ceremony, the flower arrangement, all revolves around an idea to honor the honored guest. It’s an immersive experience.”
Pham was born in Vietnam and moved to the U.S. in 1985. A tea connoisseur, she owns a tea shop in
Tampa with her cousin, Lan Ha, and has spent “almost 15 years living and breathing tea.”
“To me, whenever there is a Japanese tea room built or an exhibit on the tea ceremony, it’s a way to introduce our community to an important piece of history,” she said. “When people visit The Ringling and see the tea house, they can ask questions and learn about why it is so special.”
She explained that a traditional tea ceremony was not an impromptu affair. A host would send out an invitation a month in advance and spend weeks preparing for the ceremony, which often included a full meal and small sweet desserts as well as the tea.
Talk about good hosting.
When the house was finished a few months ago, Pham did a small ceremony demonstration. On Feb. 7, the architect and craftsman will have a panel to discuss the processes they used to make the tea house “a marriage of the traditional and contemporary.”
The team used as many local materials as possible in creating the structure. The raw metal look is a hallmark of the Sarasota School of Architecture. The wooden roof of the overhang and inside are made from reclaimed cedar from the Withlacoochee River. Even the scroll on display was created by a local artist.
And of course, the concept of a calming cup of tea has not changed in hundreds of years. It’s nice to have a place to think about how that started.
P.S.: Want to learn more about tea ceremonies? Pham recommended this book on Amazon.