I have gone into many homes in my life, some very attractive, some less interesting, everyone with its own particular style but not always reflecting the homeowner’s personality. The other day I had lunch in a Japanese friend’s house. It is not my first time visiting a Japanese home, in fact a few years ago I was in Japan where I had a taste of the original Japanese décor.
Strangely, I find that Japanese born people living in the western world tend to appreciate the western décor more than their own traditional style. Is it because they want to blend in with the hosting country, or because the western décor is new to their eyes and want to embrace it? Probably, I will never ask them this questions, but one thing I felt in my friend’s home: a certain serene atmosphere and subdued colors.
Colors in Japanese décor are never too strong or too visible, ranging from browns to beige, from light green to light pink or peach, their function is to balance the environment and provide a resting place for the eyes. Although red is a perfect color for the coloration of their skin, therefore it can be found often in their garments, Japanese hardly paint walls in their homes in red or place a huge piece of red furniture in their décor. Red might be present in small amount inside of a painting, or blended softly with other colors in throw pillows.
Furniture are sparse, barely the minimal even in large homes, leaving wide unused spaces to a free flow of positive energy.
After lunch my friend served a gentle lemon grass tea in a British blueish-green porcelain cup with gold designs rolling in a white background, accompanied by white linen napkins and brushed stainless steel flatware for tea and dessert. White is the color that pulls their soft colors together. Interior doors and frames, windows and frames, foyer and corridors marble floors, kitchen and service areas floors, ceilings and some upholstery all play that role, in some case even table and bed linens.
Fresh flowers and natural plants are part of the Japanese interior décor, but they are graphic, mixed with stones and kept in one color scheme. I have never seen a flower arrangement in a riot of colors, as I see it often in western homes. Japanese like the gentle simplicity of nature and they will never recreate what nature does not create. They keep the shapes organic and natural even in garden arrangements.
Rocks are an important element of a Japanese dry garden “Karensansui”, designed for meditation and to restore heart and mind. It is meant to be contemplative while sitting down in one place to see it at eye level. By gazing at different size rocks, sand and gravel, one is to imagine ocean water flowing and waterfall cascading down hills and mountains. My friend told me that the rocks resemble the island of Japan, sand and gravel placed around the rocks are designed as ripples resembling the movement of water. The gardener will use a rake to create this movement.
She gave me a little insight on what kind of rocks to choose for a dry Japanese garden and the meaning of each rock called Ishi. There are only five types of rocks to choose, but very important for keeping the equilibrium in the mind and soul:
• Vertical rock or soul rock as it is called. It gets interspersed randomly in the landscape.
• Body rock is a tall rock, which is placed towards the back of the garden, because is the tallest stone and also represents a God.
• Heart rock is flat, almost like a stepping-stone and balances all the vertical rocks.
• Branching and Reclining rocks balance all the forms and shapes, vertical and horizontal.
• Rocks to avoid are the broken ones and the Dead Rock, which are long and can only be used horizontally, making a figurative dead person.
Spaces in the garden must be empty, not crowded with plants. Empty spaces will create something in the viewer’s imagination. The contour of all the elements around will create a sense of time in space, a sense of solitude and a cure for the spirit.
As the rule demands, my friend’s Japanese dry garden is well enclosed on all sides in a wood fence and surrounded by tall trees and maples.
Her rock garden was designed outside a traditional tatami room with shoji doors, complete with a spa room, soaking tub, steam shower, lanterns, silk kimonos and bamboo fabric bathrobe and slippers. Particularly I admired the exquisite herringbone woodwork on the ceiling. This Japanese wing of a French Chateau house in California (what a mixture!) was detailed to the letter to make a real, traditional and original setting. It was a surprise to see it, as it is not visible from any part of the house. I was impressed to see all this beauty and serenity created as a secret island in a home that vibrates as all the busy homes do with everyday routine.
Leaving any Japanese home, don’t forget to thank the host for the courteous hospitality and to bow down to show your appreciation for being in their home and for the special care received. Japanese hospitality and courtesy always leave me astounded.
Has my experience in a Japanese home been useful to you? Do you feel you need a serene secret island for your mind and soul? Sometimes it might take a little study, but any décor can be recreated anywhere, let me know what you need by leaving a comment below. Ciao,
Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola, is the principal designer and owner of Valentina Interiors & Designs. She is a trained designer and has been in business since 1990. She works on consultation and produces design concepts for remodeling, upgrading, new home, décor restyling and home fashion. “Vogue Italy” magazine and many prominent publications in California featured Valentina’ s work. She also has made four appearances on T.V. Comcast Channel 15. Find her books on