Japanese Interior Design and How to Achieve It


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Japanese interior design is something that most Westerners can recognise but can’t execute or even describe. Instead opting for a better understanding and knowledge of Japanese cuisine (guilty… please pass the dumplings).

Japan has a hugely rich and long culture that’s woven into every aspect of daily life, including a deep relationship with their traditional interior design choices. Japanese style is sleek, simple – and distinctively philosophical. How much do you know?

What are the Basic Rules of Japanese Interior Design?

Line, form, space, light and materials are a few of the essential elements of Japanese interior design. While a great deal of importance is placed on minimalist architecture, such as the absence of internal walls to open space and allow the flow of light, noise and energy throughout the structure.

Supporting this is the noticeable lack of bulky furniture and nonessential living instruments, known in the West as “stuff”. Japanese interiors are also limited to either natural materials or ones that mimic natural hues. This is all tied up with a large dose of storage.

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The key component of Japanese interior design is called “Ma”, which translates to “negative space”. This concept attempts to balance available space with and furniture and other objects. The aim of Ma is to keep interior spaces clear and uncluttered to aid in creating a calm and Zen environment.

And the result? A practice that is believed to reduce all its elements down to their core essential quality.

What are the Origins of Japanese Interior Design?

The style of home decoration known as Japanese interior design it is exactly that, Japanese. So, when did it arrive in the West?

During the mid-19th century trade opened between the East and West allowing for the initial seedlings of merging. The trading allowed for deeper insight into the allusive country, its culture and its ritualistic home interiors. Japanese interiors are the key inspiration of the minimalist movement and introduced the philosophy of “zen” interiors.

Zen Philosophy and Japanese Interior Design

Zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes the importance of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship or study of scriptures.

So, how does that translate to interior design? Since Zen is deemed as a way of life its own interior design style was created. A Zen home should be relaxing, contemplative, visually balanced and appealing.

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Setting the energy free in a space means removing all obstacles; this is where the absence of fixed internal walls comes from. Doorways, walls and general room dividers should be near-invisible, hence the conception of shoji, these are oriental sliding doors made from translucent paper over a wooden or bamboo frame.


Zen is a path to enlightenment and has a theory based on light. Rely on daylighting is essential within Japanese interiors, and when it comes to artificial lighting it should mimic sunlight (such as lights with dimming capabilities). This is deemed to create ambience rather than illumination.

Colours and Materials

To remain within the realms of unfussy, Zen décor a lot of emphases is placed on colours and materials. Japanese interior design opts for colours and materials that reflect and champion the natural light that Zen philosophy advocates.

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Because of this, much like its design love child minimalism, it’s commonplace for Japanese homes to be built upon natural materials and colours that reflect them.

Stone and wood are favourite materials for flooring, while matte white and soft neutrals dominate walls. Bamboo and wood are often used for structures such as space dividers and furniture. Light-reflecting fabrics in natural hues are popular or unbleached.


You don’t have to be a monk to live like one. Storage is crucial to living with Zen style in the 21st century. Your family life may not run without multiple laptops, a flat-screen TV and games console – but that doesn’t mean they have to be on constant display. Invest in built-in storage cabinets that help the amenities of 21st-century life disappear. Paint the cabinets in your muted, natural tones to match the walls and these will blend seamlessly too.

For display cabinets try wabi-sabi style furniture to mimic traditional Japanese décor.


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While mansions don’t correspond to Zen design neither does a cramped space. A home that’s cluttered and inefficient won’t be creating peaceful vibes. If you’re lacking in square metres (aren’t we all) then a way to combat clutter is to ensure your limited space is multifunctional.

Stuck for ideas? Try a footstool that doubles as extra seating when hosting, plonk a tray on top for a tuck-away-able makeshift side table. Under-bed storage is a non-negotiable, likewise bedside tables with drawers. What about building drawers into your stair risers, or a kitchen bench that can be tucked under the table when not in use?


So, that’s Japanese interior design in a nutshell, do you think you’ll be trying to recreate the style tips or philosophy in your own home? Let A Fancy Home know on Twitter!