A home should be a retreat from the noise and stress of the outside world.
So, what to do when the distractions of life and everyday clutter start to encroach on the spaces where we're meant to feel the most relaxed? One way to cultivate an environment that promotes presence of mind is to look East.
Timeless and aesthetically focused, Japanese design has long influenced Western architecture; it's seen in the early 20th-century Bauhaus movement and the work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, among others. And the design concepts that attracted those visionaries are having a moment again.
Etsy named the Japanese concept wabi-sabi — taking pride in imperfection and accepting impermanence — a top design trend of 2018. Japandi, a combination of Japanese and Scandinavian design, is a trending hashtag.
Proponents of Japanese design principles say that incorporating them into your own home can make you feel less stressed. Whether your aesthetic is shabby chic, midcentury modern or California coastal, there are ideas and aspects of Japanese design that you can consider adding to your home and your routine.
Wooden furniture, branches as décor, houseplants and other natural elements are essential aspects of ryokan design, Aasgaard says. There should also be plenty of windows to allow for a full view of nature. In the home, bringing in elements of the outdoors can be as simple as adding hardwood accessories in the kitchen. Or, incorporate driftwood, natural wooden sculptures or even a branch-based floral design into a room.
In Japan, the art of creating floral displays is called ikebana. The practice treats floral arrangements as more than just decorative elements — the designs go far beyond a hastily arranged burst of blooms. It's a thoughtful process, allowing the designer to meditate on nature, explains Hones. Incorporating a similar daily or weekly ritual, such as collecting and arranging seasonal flowers, branches or leaves, can provide the same meditative pause in your own hectic life.
Shoji screens — sliding frame doors covered in white paper — are emblematic of Japanese design. And while they serve a practical purpose to easily divide a room, they are also designed to enhance light and shadows in a room, allowing the shifting dynamic of the light to become a star player in an interior.
To apply this principle in your home, treat screens, drapery or shutters not merely as window covers but as devices for playing around with how the light falls in the room, and how that light makes you feel.
Mirrors, too, can be a key element in maximizing light, says Hones, who advises clients to add mirrors next to windows, to reflect outside greenery and allow even more sun and natural elements to enter the home. "Light sources should be dimmable and well-spaced, and use candles or lanterns to add to the glow of the space," Hones says. If you are incorporating sconces, consider the shadow or patterns they cast as an additional design element.
Wabi-sabi is a liberating design philosophy in that it revels in imperfection. Earthen materials such as mugs, plates and vases are commonly seen as having elements of wabi-sabi. If chipped or worn with age, these pieces are regarded as beautiful for having withstood the test of time.
Japanese design values craftsmanship over mass production. Owning fewer things that are made well, and, most importantly, that make you happy when you use them is far more important than buying new goods every few years, shares Asako Ueno, chief curator at Anzu, an online Japanese design shop based in Brooklyn, NY.
Do you have a friend who went on a decluttering streak, only holding onto items that sparked joy? While the phrase comes from Japanese author Marie Kondo's bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the sentiment is strictly rooted in Japanese design principles, namely that the things you use should also be the things you love — merging the beautiful and the practical.
"Japanese design philosophy is rooted in the concept that everything you own has energy, or chi," explains Hones. As an experiment, Hones suggests tuning into some of your furniture: How does your dining room table make you feel? What sort of meals did you have or conversations did you enjoy there? Learning to tap into the energy of your possessions can help you cull the things that you feel are bringing you down and remove them.
In Japanese design, less is more, and sometimes, in a traditional tatami room (a space covered in straw mat flooring), the best furniture design is none at all. The concept of negative space, called ma, is a key element in Japanese homes. "When a room is empty, with only a few objects that take our energy, we are able to focus on what's most important," Hones explains.
While it may not be feasible to have a room devoid of furniture, minimizing the amount of furniture in each room (or putting away items when you're done using them) may help make you feel like you have less physical — and mental — clutter, too.
"When I do it, I imagine sweeping the clutter from my mind and starting the day anew," says Hones. For her, the simple task is just as meditative as it is practical. Which, after all, is the essence of Japanese design.
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