Australians are taking interior design cues from Japan, incorporating key elements such as natural timbers, interaction with immediate landscape and clean functional minimalism into our homes. And it's no surprise that Japanese interior design offers synergies with the Australian lifestyle, fitting our environment and sense of aesthetics and comfort.
Joan Ting, store manager of Apato, a Melbourne-based designer furniture company carrying brands by Japanese master craftsmen and designers, says one of the reasons Australians love Japanese interior design is that we appreciate what nature has to offer, while recognising good, functional and well-designed products.
"We share a love for wood and its tactility," says Ting.
"The Japanese are well known for their dedication to their craft, and consumers are assured of the quality and the thought process that has been put into producing these Japanese pieces."
Japanese design seeks to maximise what nature has to offer, she adds, with craftspeople turning natural resources with their imperfections into something coherent in their use. The refined wood crafting of designers such as Nissin Mokkou from the Hida region of Japan, an area renowned for its temples and palaces, is one example.
Japanese interior design embraces the use of natural materials. Photo: Sekisui House
"These designers bring with them years of experience and sophisticated wood-working techniques that have been passed down through generations," says Ting.
"They now use a lot of modern machinery, but still retain the use of traditional joinery techniques; for example, no screws or nails are used in joints."
She says the Japanese approach to design is first and foremost about enhancing the personal experience - comfortable, simple and timeless designs that will fit in any environment.
"It is about embracing nature and utilising the inherent quality of natural materials to enhance the design," says Ting.
This appreciation of craft skills and a constant connection with nature resonates with Australians' expectations for their homes today. The furniture that sells best for Apato includes Japanese-designed dining chairs and lounges.
Clean, functional minimalism is used to optimise the use of space. Photo: Sekisui House
"In general, that's due to their simplicity, adaptability in various environments and, most importantly, their ergonomics," says Ting.
Ting says that functional Japanese designs work well in modern Australian housing as locals eschew big McMansions for smaller homes.
"With smaller homes, there is a need to simplify, and there is more appreciation and understanding of the Japanese wabi-sabi approach - where less is more in optimising the use of space in homes," she says.
Mitsuharu Yachi, master architect of Japanese housing giant Sekisui House, which launched its Australian operation in 2009, says that the Japanese have a functional approach to interior design focused on the movement and flow of people, and how space functions and makes people feel.
Homes are designed to feel larger than they actually are. Photo: Sekisui House
"Houses and land lots in Japan are generally much smaller," says Yachi. "We [Japanese architects and designers] design homes to maximise usable space and functionality of space.
"We can design homes to feel larger than the actual area and it directly relates to affordability of homes."
Yachi was appointed to join Sekisui House Australia in 2011 and has been instrumental in influencing the company's home designs in Australia.
He says Australians want an authentically comfortable home - embracing natural light and breeze.
"When we put two windows in a room, the ability of natural ventilation dramatically increases. This simply allows us not to rely heavily on airconditioning in summer," says Yachi.
Yachi says that Sekisui House focuses on minimising internal design elements by using simple lines, blank walls and flat texture.
???Natural lighting and ventilation are key considerations. Photo: Sekisui House
"The principle of this is to always design space and elements with meaning. We often have a blank wall or space within the house but they all have a purpose, or reason for being. Raw materials are used as design features; for instance, the exposed beam within a SHAWOOD home," he says, referring to the group's brand of carefully designed homes.
Integral to Japanese interior design is integration with the landscape.
"Zen design is connected with the naturalism concept, where a design is focused on integrating or connecting, and even incorporating landscape elements within the house," says Yachi.
Yachi believes that timeless design allows residents to be able to live in their homes and love their homes longer, independently of trends.
"That is the essence of Japanese interior design," says Yachi.