Whether you've long admired Japanese interiors or are just beginning to discover their magic, you may be wondering how exactly to introduce this aesthetic into your own space. If this is the case, you're in luck—we spoke with five Japanese designers who weighed in on the most important elements of Japanese design to keep in mind.
Meet the Expert
San Francisco-based designer Noz Nozawa urges those who appreciate Japanese style decor to source authentic items made by Japanese creators. "If a person appreciates Japanese culture, I love to suggest incorporating Japanese decor that was made in Japan, or by artists and makers who have an ancestral or residential connection to Japan," she says. "If you get to visit Japan, finding objects while traveling is my favorite way to bring back memories that I have a personal connection with. If traveling is unrealistic, or you're on a budget, I love finding vintage decor objects...online at places like Chairish and 1stDibs."
This same practice should hold true when one is looking into a renovation, too, Nozawa shares. "In order to create a room that successfully achieves your vision, it requires having an earnest curiosity about the materials local to Japan, and why certain elements are used," she explains. This is where a designer can prove extremely valuable, if possible. "Finding someone who is versed in the culture you are interested in taking inspiration from will help you navigate the vastness of options endemic to that culture, and what's realistically available where you live," Nozawa adds.
And part of being authentic is "introducing the right proportions, materiality, and a glimpse of craftsmanship and keeping it all simple," says designer Yosuke Miura of Hone Studio in the UK. "You often see when some sort of unauthentic calligraphy artwork is hung on the wall or displayed on a shelf, but to me, this has the opposite effect and makes it unauthentic," he says. One way to achieve authenticity is through furniture selection. "Keeping furniture all at low level can also help to make it all feel more Japanese, as it brings everything closer to the floor where traditionally people used to sit, eat, relax and sleep," Miura states. Furnishings that are wooden and have thin frames are also ideal, he adds.
Keep it Simple and Ensure Objects Have a "Home"
Many Japanese homes are sparsely decorated and feature items that can be put back into place—folding beds, tables, and chairs, for example. Furnishings in Japanese homes are often multipurpose, too, London-based designer Yoko Kloeden explains. She suggests, "List everything you have and make sure everything has a ‘home’ to go back to." In one of her projects, Kloeden designed a space for a chef who "had a long list of the professional kitchen appliances she needed." This helped ensure that everything could be neatly stored away. "We made sure every single kitchen appliance has a ‘home’ and they can all be put away in concealed cabinets with minimal design when their jobs are finished," Kloeden explains.
Designer Atsu Gunther shares a similar sentiment. "Place only furniture pieces and objects that are absolutely necessary and declutter the space," she says. "Use neutral colors only for the base colors."
Kloeden shares advice for those who are drawn to elements of Japanese interior architecture. "If you like the serene but beautifully patinated and motted walls often seen in traditional Japanese houses, clay plaster or lime-wash paint would be perfect," she comments. This home that Kloeden designed in London's Richmond neighborhood, pictured above, features plaster walls that contrast with the tile in the entryway.
Gunther is also a proponent of plaster. "Celebrate the transitory nature of life," she says. "Incorporate natural materials into the decoration such as by illuminating the room with paper lamps and applying plaster to the walls."
Incorporating items found in one's own backyard is also a means of achieving serenity in a space. "Make an arrangement with a few branches...from outside in artisan pottery to celebrate the seasons," Gunther suggests. "If a room has no windows with a view of nature and natural light, decorate the room with a mural screen that expresses nature or landscape."
Combine Old and New
"Wider cultural influences from other countries and periods, adapted to our own cultural purposes, are a key part of a Japanese-influenced design scheme," Brooklyn-based designer Jarret Yoshida says. "A Japanese home, especially one in America, effortlessly combines items from various periods and cultures by using items that are focused not so much on elaborate graphics but material and texture."
In a related vein, Gunther states that enjoying older items is key when designing a Japanese-inspired home. "Appreciate things that are distressed and aging," she says. "Purchase furniture, objects or architectural materials that will last for a long time. In other words, invest in pieces that are valuable to you."