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Art Design Ask a Designer: How to Craft a Calming Home Inspired by Japanese Minimalism

Ask a Designer: How to Craft a Calming Home Inspired by Japanese Minimalism

The Ryokan Modern, a home designed by Upstairs_
The Ryokan Modern, a home designed by Upstairs_
By Hong Xinying
By Hong Xinying
April 27, 2021
Dennis Cheok, creative director of Upstairs_, shows you how to craft a home with Japanese influences

Calming, simple and timeless—these words are frequently associated with Japanese design. It’s no wonder it continues to hold sway in the interior realm, drawing admiration from architects, designers and homeowners alike.

“The Japanese design language is unique in that it celebrates the negative space, shadows and imperfections,” shares Dennis Cheok, creative director of Upstairs_. “These are rare traits in an industry that is obsessed with perfection and building fast, and I think it can have a very profound influence on the way we envision our projects.

(Related: Zen Zone: How to Make Your Living Room Feel More Relaxing

Creative director of Upstairs_, Dennis Cheok
Creative director of Upstairs_, Dennis Cheok

Cheok was the lead designer of The Ryokan Modern, an apartment filled with Japanese influences. The project received the Best Living Room accolade at the Tatler Design Awards 2020 and was celebrated for being a beautiful tribute to Japanese culture.

“When designing with a nuanced aesthetic in mind, we begin to pay more attention to textures and forms, and lean towards materials and objects that lend a sense of artistry and poetry to spaces,” explains Cheok.

You can weave in subtle Japanese references by selecting organic materials and raw finishes to reinforce its pared-back appeal. “The most wonderful thing about the Japanese aesthetic is that the natural, ageing patina is celebrated and revered,” shares Cheok. “Bare concrete can be ‘Japanese’, simply by working with its unfinished brutality and elegance in purity.”

(Related: Home Tour: A Minimalist Apartment Designed In The Style Of A Modern Ryokan

101 Copenhagen Sculpt stool, from P5 Studio
101 Copenhagen Sculpt stool, from P5 Studio
101 Copenhagen Brutus chair, from P5 Studio
101 Copenhagen Brutus chair, from P5 Studio
Vessels by Paola Paronetto, from paola-paronetto.com
Vessels by Paola Paronetto, from paola-paronetto.com

1/5 Raw Beauty

Inspired by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which celebrates natural imperfections, Cheok suggests designs such as the 101 Copenhagen Brutus chair and Sculpt Stool, and the paper clay sculptures crafted by Italian ceramicist Paola Paronetto.

“I have recently become acquainted with 101 Copenhagen, and was immediately drawn to its raw, brutalist forms and material nuances,” says Cheok. “I also admire Paronetto's vessels, which are distinctively crafted with their unfinished edges. I love how they appear almost paper-like in their fragility and their visual lightness.”

(Related: 7 Vases and Homeware With Handmade Details That We Love

Classicon Plissée lamp by Sebastian Herkner, from Space Furniture
Classicon Plissée lamp by Sebastian Herkner, from Space Furniture
Serax Chan lamp by Ann Demeulemeester, from serax.com
Serax Chan lamp by Ann Demeulemeester, from serax.com

2/5 Washi Time

Paper is another material typically associated with Japanese design. It is applied to lanterns as well as on the shoji sliding doors and walls in traditional Japanese homes. For a more subtle application, consider the Classicon Plissée floor lamp. “The Plissée evokes the silhouette and glow of Japanese lanterns in a simple, modern way,” shares Cheok.

If you’re looking for a bold centrepiece, Cheok recommends the Serax Chan 1 pendant lamp, whose form is reminiscent of noren cord curtains. “There is so much primitive beauty to it,” he says.

Presence/Absence by Wyn-Lyn Tan, from Fost Gallery
Presence/Absence by Wyn-Lyn Tan, from Fost Gallery

3/5 Artistic Flourish

Complete the look with an abstract art piece that can serve as the focal point of an elegant, Japanese-influenced interior. Cheok highlights Presence/Absence, a work by local artist Wyn-Lyn Tan, who is represented by Fost Gallery.

“Tan’s brushstrokes are always powerful and transportive,” says Cheok. “I also love the way this piece is arranged. The negative spaces between the elements become something to participate in, much like the landscaping in a Japanese garden.”

(Related: How Do You Create Art In A Pandemic?

Arflex Botolo armchair by Cini Boeri, from Space Furniture
Arflex Botolo armchair by Cini Boeri, from Space Furniture

4/5 Clean Slate

A light and off-white palette generally works well when going for a Japanese-inspired scheme. “Neutral hues and timber tones achieve a timeless look. On the other extreme, many experiential Japanstyle spaces can also be composed of dark textures and shadows,” says Cheok. “It’s the way these colours and textures are orchestrated that defines the way it is perceived, be it Japanese-influenced or otherwise.”

For this reason, he suggests tactile pieces such as the Arflex Botolo chair designed by Cini Boeri. “It’s both outrageous and incredibly humble at the same time. I am obsessed.”

Poliform Westside sofa by Jean-Marie Massaud, from Space Furniture
Poliform Westside sofa by Jean-Marie Massaud, from Space Furniture
SP01 Yee sideboard by Metrica, from Space Furniture
SP01 Yee sideboard by Metrica, from Space Furniture

5/5 Down to Earth

Japanese interiors favour furniture of a low height especially if the room features tatami-style flooring, which means guests will be seated directly on the floor. As such, Cheok recommends the SP01 Yee sideboard by Metrica and the Poliform Westside sofa by Jean-Marie Massaud. “This piece creates an elegant storage solution, yet with so much restraint,” says Cheok. “The Poliform Westside sofa is a modern interpretation of tatami seating best utilised within a well-proportioned lounge.”

(Related: Here's Why Minimalists Will Love Australian Furniture Brand SP01

This story was first published in the April issue of Tatler Homes Singapore; the issue is available with our compliments on Magzter until 31 May 2021.

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Art & Design Tatler Homes interior design home decor japanese design minimalism upstairs_ dennis cheok

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