Japanese design is known for its mix of
natural materials and clean, well-defined shapes. This fits well into the
modern minimal aesthetic, where materials and colours are highlighted through
space and geometry. The use of natural timbers, environmental interaction, and
clean functional minimalism is very attractive to the busy western mind.
Traditional Japanese houses are focused on space rather than possessions, with
only a few functional and decorative items needed to accent living spaces.
The Japanese are also well known for their
craftsmanship and attention to detail, with sophisticated wood-working
techniques and other skills often passed down through the generations. When
fewer items are used to decorate interior spaces, more attention needs to be
given to each individual item. Much of the skill of Japanese craftsmanship is
about embracing the inherent qualities of natural materials, with the placement
of furniture and other items based on the functionality and geometry of the
The Japanese concept of kanso, or
simplicity, can be used to understand this approach to interior design, along
with the other six principles of the zen philosophy: fukinsei or asymmetry,
seijaku or silence, shizen or naturalness, koko or austerity, datsuzoku or
freedom, and yugen or subtle profundity. Much like zen itself, kanso focuses on
the flow and movement of energy within a space. By choosing modest furniture
and minimal artwork over large and bold designs, perhaps we can help to quieten
the western mind and enjoy the peace that we all crave.
While much of this approach is
philosophical in nature, there are a few traditional items and design elements
that symbolise the zen aesthetic. For example, sliding doors and screens are
often used to create separation between spaces in Japanese homes, or
alternatively open spaces up to allow the energy to flow. Louvred doors and
translucent screens allow light and shadows to travel between spaces, which
provides a sense of connection and warmth even when rooms have been separated.
Tatami flooring is a type of straw matting that is often used underfoot in
Japanese houses, with this simple and environmentally friendly solution
designed with bare feet in mind.
The use of multi-purpose rooms is another
feature that defines Japanese interior design, with traditional futon beds
often folded and stored in closets during the day to make additional living
spaces. This is a great way to make the most of small living spaces and create
a spacious zen atmosphere that is also functional. Easy access to the outdoors
and minimal transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces is another key
feature of Japanese design that continues to influence modernist architects
around the world.
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