A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Interior Design - Public Goods Blog

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A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Interior Design

Throughout history, people have often adopted a “more is more” mindset when it comes to interior design.

japanese style wooden interior

Investing in surreal, maximalist pieces was a way to display opulence and abundance in the home, while a sense of grandiosity was at the forefront of architecture and decor.

As time has gone on, modern design has started to lean more towards simple elegance by bringing minimalism into the narrative as a main pillar of both lifestyle and home decor.

This concept of integrating minimalism into your space is in alignment with Japanese culture and Zen philosophy. Steeped in honoring ancient traditions and living in harmony with the natural world, Japanese culture showcases these commitments through creating beautiful, organic-feeling spaces.

As Western culture starts to shift more towards a minimalist ideology, elements of traditional Japanese interior design are starting to seep their way into Western preferences when it comes to both lifestyle and interior design.

What Is Japanese Interior Design?

Balance, order, ancient traditions, and a love of natural beauty are central to modern Japanese design. Line, form, space, light, and material are just a few of the essential elements central to this aesthetic. Great value is placed in the absence of nonessential walls and belongings, allowing the space to maintain an airy, organic feel.

In practice, this can mean prioritizing the use of natural materials, relying heavily on natural light, and maintaining lots of unused space by being deliberate of what you are bringing into your home, and how it is being placed.

At the center of all of this is a concept known as “Ma”, which aims to find balance and order between openness and emptiness on one side of a living space, and furniture and other objects on the other side. With this as the backbone of

Japanese design, living spaces remain calm, clear of clutter, and offer a peaceful respite for both inhabitants and visitors.

Elements of Japanese Design

As an aesthetic with such ancient roots, it’s difficult to distill the Japanese style down into just a few components. However, there are a few common themes throughout Japanese interiors that are both authentic to the culture and relatively easy to adopt into your own home for a sense of greater tranquility and connectedness to your space and environment.

Lightness & Illumination

Lighting is considered to be one of the key features of the Japanese home. Light is not viewed simply as an add-on, but rather a material that can be both felt and seen. Homes are designed in such a way that keeps in mind the motion and quality of natural light, creating a fresh, lively, organic look and feel. As a result, skylights, large windows, and glass doors are common features in Japanese home decor.

Elements of Nature & Natural Materials

Japanese-inspired interiors are designed to emulate the natural world. Natural wood is often used as a central material while bamboo, silk, rice straw mats, and paper add textured, visually appealing accents. Earthy tones of beige, brown, muted blues, and greens are often used in Japanese homes as a way to recreate the feeling of being outdoors.

Greenery is also commonly incorporated into traditional Japanese homes. Bonsai trees and ferns are commonly seen, while Ikebana (a Japanese-style floral arrangement) is often incorporated as a way to sprinkle in a pop of color to an otherwise very neutral color palette.

Limited Walls & Fusuma

Traditional Japanese interior design takes a minimalistic approach when it comes to inner walls and construction in general. Rather, they use an alternative called Fusuma. Fusuma are bamboo or rice paper sliding doors that work like doors and walls but can be easily removed or even taken off to change the layout of any space. By abstaining from nonessential interior walls, a living space opens up, allowing for an organic flow between the interior and exterior. This concept is believed to reduce all elements down to their core essential quality and creates a natural flow between the home and the environment.

Modular Design & Functional Furniture

Because of the small nature of most Japanese urban apartments, architects and designers often take a creative approach to the space they’re working in. As a result, modular design has become very popular in Japanese interiors. By dividing your home into smaller living spaces using Fusuma, a living space can become multifunctional.

Japanese homes are also only filled with furniture that is absolutely essential for everyday life. This lack of furniture allows for a living space and bedroom to occupy the same room, and for the space to remain airy and open during most waking hours.

Minimalist Color Palette

In Japanese culture, white is considered to be a symbol of purity and emptiness—both concepts that are reflected in interior decor and design. As the most versatile, dynamic, and delicate color, it provides an excellent backdrop for the minimalist style of most Japanese homes.

Stunning Examples of Japanese Interior Design

To help get you inspired, here are some Japanese interior design ideas that use many of the stylistic elements highlighted above.

fusuma in Japanese interior design

Here, the use of Fusuma creates a seamless transition from the interior space to the environment outside, resulting in beautiful natural light and an organic feel.

use of wood in Japanese interior design

The main material here is classic natural wood, while accents of white add an element of starkness and purity.

A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Interior Design

The central skylight and large floor-to-ceiling windows offer incredible natural light, while the sliding doors act as Fusuma, allowing the space to open up as needed. 

Where to Buy the Top Japanese Home Decor Products

If you simply want to add suggestions of Japanese-inspired design into your home, starting out with smaller sprinklings of natural wood elements like a bamboo toothbrush, reusable bamboo straw, naturally scented candle, or bamboo shaving set is a great place to start. Once you’ve incorporated these easy accents, you can always start to add more elements of Japanese design as you continue to decorate your home.

If you decide you’re ready to make some larger purchases to add more elements of Japanese-inspired decor into your home, retailers like Haiku Designs and Medley Home offer a vast selection of responsibly-crafted, sustainably-sourced Japanese-inspired pieces. 

Tools to Stay Inspired 

With so many great resources available to help inspire your interior design journey, you’ll quickly find what does and doesn’t work for you and your specific space. Whether you’re just looking to incorporate a few bits and pieces of Japanese-inspired decor, or doing a full interior renovation, there are options out there for every amateur interior designer to help you make your home feel fresh and personal to you.

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