Architect Tadao Ando has described a Japanese home as a “concentrated world”. The measure of a room in Japan is the tatami mat, a 6x3ft thatched straw mat, bordered by ornate fabric. Room sizes are advertised and compared by the number of tatami it takes to cover the floor. For example, a four-and-a-half mat room is 9x6ft in area; or a six-mat room is 9x2ft in area, which is standard.
In a country where space is at a premium and technology is state of the art, this traditional idea is still valid for people to create a visual image of how large a room is. Arranged in preset configurations, an entire life of activities is lived out in these tatami rooms that serve multiple functions. Eating, relaxing, sleeping and dining; this is the chair, the lounger, the bed and the table.
Japanese aesthetic has had a great influence since the 1980s. Typical Japanese interiors are clean-lined, impeccable in craftsmanship and finish, and use natural materials and textures in sensitive juxtaposition. The spaces are multipurpose and the furniture and soft furnishings are interchangeable and flexible. Much of the living is near floor level, so with everything lower, the rooms seem larger and do not close in upon you.
Recreate the freshness of spring in the living room by treating the walls differently. A hand-painted wall mural uses stylized Japanese tree forms and translates as a piece of oversized art. The pink wall with sakura (Japanese flowering cherry) motifs forms the focal point. Furniture is contemporary and has clean lines. Upholstery fabrics are neutral, letting the wall speak for itself.
However, the drapes and cushions, in contemporary graphic prints, offset the wall painting. Accessories should match the pattern and design of the room. In this case it’s a pair of Buddha heads.
This setting is perfect for young homemakers who casually entertain friends in studio apartments. By including a low coffee-cum-dining table with cushions, a small space doubles up as a living-dining area.
Japanese dining is not so far removed from traditional Indian floor seating and eating off a leaf. The difference is that the Chabu-Dai (Japanese dining table) is 10-12 inches off the floor. This height lets you cross your legs comfortably under the table while seated on flat cushion seats called zabutons. These cushions can be pushed under the table when not in use. The taller console can also be used as a sideboard for serving food. Low-hanging paper lanterns emphasize and cosy up the focus on the floor seating. Personal photos and pictures make up the art work. A slightly edgy palette of lime, teal and coral makes the room young and vibrant.
The Japanese sleep on futons on tatami-lined floors, very much like our cotton mattresses. The futons fold into exactly three folds and can be stowed in cupboards during the day. Changing soft furnishings is the easiest way to give a room a quick makeover.
In this image, mattresses are placed on a Balinese platform bed. A canopy unfolds overhead, propped and framed by young bamboo poles. Sheers or curtains create an intimate feeling. A favourite motif or pattern could become a headboard and backdrop to the room. In this room, an organic wall-hanging behind the bed breathes a certain freshness into the space. The hues are a watercolour palette of crisp green, sand white with a shadow of deep teal.
This kitchen has been treated as a modern abstraction of a Japanese shoji screen. In this cheerful kitchen, the under-counter storage has been colour-blocked in vivid laminates, while the counter and overhead storage are crisp and clean in white, creating a deliberate and effective contrast. Shades of orange and mango emphasize the walls. Illustrations that look like shadows of storage have been treated as silhouettes on the wall.
Treat the balcony and veranda like a tropical getaway. Have fun doing up outdoor spaces; or even treat the end-wall or corridor in a home with whimsy. Imagine you are on a picnic and keep accessories and styling inexpensive and cheerful. Mobiles and paper lanterns hang from the ceiling, flooring in artificial grass, slatted garden furniture…all add to the ambience.
Text and photographs by Freedom Tree Design
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