Japanese furniture has been a popular home décor theme in Western design since the 1960s. One of the main reasons for this enduring popularity is sheer simplicity.
The Zen Buddhist tradition that brought tea ceremony, rock gardens and organic architecture to the world is also responsible for modern Japanese furniture design. Simple, functional, beautiful pieces adorn homes of all sizes in Asia, Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.
What are the key elements of minimalist Japanese furniture design? And how is the ancient principle of “less is more” incorporated into modern homes. It helps to know some basic facts about the trend’s history and development:
- The simple Zen lifestyle is a heavy influence on traditional Japanese furniture, home and even commercial building design. More than 1,000 years of Buddhist influence have shaped virtually every interior decorating and architecture aesthetic in modern Japan.
- Uncluttered, clean rooms that are arranged for balance, respect for the past, and natural attractiveness are the hallmarks of a typical Japanese home.
- Japanese furniture tends to be low to the ground, functional, and unpainted. Visible wood grain is a prized feature to Japanese home owners, as is natural light.
- The harmony and peacefulness of Zen tea ceremony are evident in virtually every Japanese home. Families usually place at least one piece of “tea ceremony” furniture in a prominent place so guests can see it.
- Low chairs and tables, futon beds, elegant flower arrangements, rice-paper doors, and ceremonial tea-serving trays are all part of the Japanese furniture inventory in a modern household.
How can the average Western home add touches of traditional Japanese flavor? Here are six easy ways to “go Japanese.”
Bring natural, green items indoors and use them as decorations: Many Westerners already do this, but Japanese home owners always make a flower arrangement or small tree a central item of the main room. Palm, bamboo, orchid and other green plants tend to be the choice for Japanese people, rather than the colorful flowers that are seen in Western homes.
Bamboo and natural wood are part of the Japanese furniture tradition: It is easy to bring a little bit of Japan to any room by adding natural wood stools or end tables. Bamboo plant decorations, serving trays and wall hangings are other small touches that emphasize simplicity and serenity.
Low bed frames and side tables bring instant Japanese flavor: Many Western homes feature low-to-the-ground beds and tables that match. In a subtle way, even this small detail shows Japanese influence.
Get rid of clutter for a Zen-influenced makeover: Just about everyone can delete some clutter from their lives. Doing so in every room of the house is a smart way to add a touch of Japan to a typical home anywhere in the world. Each piece of furniture should have a specific place and purpose. Even small items like wall hangings, umbrella stands and vases should be chosen with care. The Zen Buddhist concept of simplicity implies “nothing wasted.”
Use a few traditional tea ceremony furniture items: It doesn’t take much to bring the atmosphere of Zen tea ceremony into a home. The dora (copper gong used in tea ceremony) is a small piece that can lend an ancient, Zen aura to a sitting room or kitchen. Hundreds of years ago, doras were crafted by highly-trained metal-smiths so that the deep note of the gong resonated through an entire village.
The hana-ire (traditional vase for a few decorative flowers) is another small Japanese furniture item that many Westerners add for maximum design effect. Every traditional tea ceremony includes this simple accessory. Some are made of bamboo, but most are ceramic or stone. Hana-ire vases tend to be much smaller than the ones used for common flower arrangement, known as ikebana.
Add a tea stand: Finally, a daisu (a stand for tea utensils) makes a wonderful addition to a Western home, with its double platform and a sparse set of tea utensils on the bottom shelf. Some Western decorators incorporate this piece into living room design, using the top shelf like a standard coffee table. Decorative Japanese tea ceremony pots, tea containers and small bowls for sweets are often displayed on the bottom shelf.
Use Japanese colors to create an Asian atmosphere: Japanese homes use natural greens and browns. This imitation of naturally beautiful plants and earth is one of the central aspects of all Japanese interior design.
The ancient beauty of Japanese furniture is timeless. Any home owner in any country can create old-world ambiance with a few simple pieces of Japanese furniture and interior design accessories.