Japanese Influenced Interiors – A World Of Inspiration

Everyone loves, or at the very least appreciates, Japanese design and craftsmanship, right?

We sure do, and so today we bring you Lauren Li‘s edit of inspiring, Japanese-influenced interiors, along with a succinct run-down on the myriad ways Japanese style has influenced design and architecture globally.


Lauren Li

Amber Road designed a Japanese-inspired café called Edition Roasters and incorporated ‘zaisu’: Japanese seating typified as a chair with no legs. Custom versions were upholstered in linen and featured the typical ‘sashiko’ stitching. Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

Lauren Li
26th of June 2019

From Belgium to California, and right here in Australia, Japanese design has made a big impression.

I am an interior designer, not a Japanese design expert, but like a lot of us, I’ve visited this magical country, and I found it to be instantly captivating on so many levels. This feature won’t delve into what ‘true’ Japanese design is, but rather, will touch on the ways Japanese style has influenced a whole range of aesthetics globally.

While Japan might be recognised for ‘zen’ minimalism – think pristine spaces and glass elements that make up a house by SANAA or the bare concrete made famous by Tadao Ando – there are so many diverse Japanese interiors that I wouldn’t necessarily describe as minimalist. I’m very much drawn to more eclectic Japanese spaces, that are layered with texture, plants and meaningful objects.

This got me thinking about the paradox between how we imagine stereotypical Japanese minimalism, and then what you actually encounter when visiting Japan: a 100 yen store on every street corner, or at least a sublimely tasteful Muji! It seems to me that the Japanese appreciate minimal spaces, but also love to consume. Uh oh, Marie Kondo!

Inside Sydney’s Edition Roasters cafe, by Amber Road.  Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

Edition Roasters references traditional Japanese ideas and materials. The interior by Amber Road feature a highly textured yet all-black palette. Japanese techniques have been employed such as ‘shou sugi ban’ a traditional way to preserve timber by charring it. Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

These interiors see the ‘wabi-sabi’ philosophy interpreted by Axel Vervoordt. Photo – Jan Liegeois


You might be surprised to know that even Kanye West (!) has been influenced by Japan throughout his career – firstly with collaborations with Takashi Murakami and recently with his brand new ‘minimal monastery’ house designed by Axel Vervoordt. This Belgian architect is known for his intensely pared back design approach, and has long been inspired by Eastern philosophies. His stunning book Wabi Inspirations, features his own Westernised version of wabi features, including peeling paint, bare boards, distressed plaster walls, and muted colours. ‘It looks poor but it’s very costly. It’s the opposite of what most people want, which is something that looks expensive but is cheap,’ Axel chuckles.

Axel’s greatest inspiration is the spirit of zen monks in Japan, who sought contentment in simplicity, purity and restraint. ‘It’s the celebration of beauty in humble things’ Let’s just let that sink in for a minute.

Simplicity, purity and restraint are values that are an antidote to our fast, frenzied consumerism, and the scrolling social media spiral in which many of us live. Kim and Kanye are the most influential celebrity couple of our time (love them or hate them) and they have bought wabi-sabi to the mainstream, by showing the world how they live in an entirely bone coloured house, void of decoration (other than some exquisite Japanese ceramic pieces – raw ceramic ‘rocks’ and vessels by Yuji Ueda) and an unbleached grand piano (a Steinway no less). Their house isn’t exactly humble, however, it is somewhat surprising to see they have rejected having ‘things’ in the pursuit of wabi-sabi. (If you haven’t already… suss their sleek new home by Axel Vervoordt here).

Courted House by Breakspear Architects. Photo – Tom Ferguson.

Studiofour use the technique of ‘borrowing scenery’ in their projects to create a quality of space that provides a sense of sanctuary, enclosure and comfort. Photo – Shannon McGarth.

This house by B.E Architecture features a particularly unexpected detail in an urban property; a secluded Japanese garden with an outdoor shower. Alongside Japanese design, they channelled inspiration from Chilean landscape architect Juan Grimm and Australian gardens by Edna Walling. Photo – Peter Clarke.

BE Architects often design the landscapes for their residential projects. They feel that these gardens should invoke a sense of calm and serenity. The purpose of the gardens is to support the architecture as well as the occupants, while not making a grand statement in themselves. Photo – Peter Clarke.

The tranquil gardens of the Kawaii Platypi project by Splinter Society. Photo – Jack Lovel, courtesy Australian Interior Design Awards.

Borrowed Scenery

We know that houses are seriously compact in Japan, although they still feel amazing to spend time in.

Often, this is thanks to a well-positioned window with a view to a garden, which gives an impression of more space.

To borrow scenery is an ancient technique known as ‘shakkei’, and it makes a lot of sense to employ this philosophy in our homes in Australia. A great example of this in practice are spaces by Studiofour, which have a tangible connection to the outdoors. The Melbourne-based firm believes that a strong relationship to the outdoors ‘is a pathway to human health and happiness’.

this Japanese-inspired ‘Hideaway‘ cabin on Tasmania’s Bruny Island was designed as a place of refuge by local firm Maguire Devine. It enjoys unencumbered views out to the natural surrounds. Photo – Robert Maver.

Timber cladding combines with seamless concealed joinery, offering hidden storage space, in the minimalist micro-living apartment in Richmond by T-A Square architects. Photo – Jack Lovel.

The handmade brick seen in the Mayfield residence by Studiofour was chosen for its imperfection and variance in colour, tone, texture and size. Photo – Shannon McGrath.

For their Captain Kelly’s Cottage by John Wardle Architects sourced tiles from Japan, the very same that were originally commissioned by Frank Lloyd Wright for his Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Photo – Trevor Mein.

Although geographically very far from Japan, Captain Kelly’s Cottage by John Wardle Architects, also in Tasmania, references Japanese design. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the living space was crafted entirely out of Tasmanian oak, and furniture items like a writing desk and coffee table were made out of leftover materials. Photo – Trevor Mein.

Dramatic panoramic views across the coastline of the north end of Bruny Island from Captain Kelly’s Cottage by John Wardle Architects. Photo – Trevor Mein.


Imagine visiting a construction site, taking off your boots and sliding on a pair of slippers. This is exactly what happened to me when I visited Japan to work on an interior design project for a global retailer. I’m used to dusty worksites, with Triple M blasting from a radio in the corner, but I didn’t find anything like that on the Japanese construction site that day. The boots/slipper comparison reveals a lot about the way that building is approached in Japan. I encountered the cleanest and most organised building site I have ever seen, and I began to understand that everywhere I went I was talking to craftsmen.

The Shinto belief system, indigenous to Japan, influences Japanese architecture in terms of materiality and form. Materials are treated with care and the greatest craftsmanship. Materials are most cherished in their natural form.

The Nobu Ryokan in Malibu, designed by Studio PCH, incorporates Japanese traditions in a Californian beach setting. The retreat features hand-crafted teak soaking baths, combined with indoor and outdoor spaces. Photo – Dylan + Jeni.

This mid-century home in San Francisco features interiors designed by Charles de Lisle, including a powder room with a hand-carved elm sink and black lacquered rosewood paneling on the walls. Photo – William Abranowicz.

(left) BE Architecture begin designing by looking at the materials that best represent the feeling that they want a house to embody. Photo – Peter Clarke. (right) Senses by Louisa Grey & Frama. Photo – Rory Gardiner.


Having a bath in Japan has its very own set of customs and rules.

Maybe, in the West, we’re not ready to bathe completely naked with strangers (!) however, we could learn a thing or two about the Japanese ritual of bathing – and the serene way the Japanese design their bathing spaces, with great emphasis on the bath, natural materials such as timber and stone, and natural light.

This serene bedroom in Arent & Pyke’s Pyrmont Apartment features a hand-painted screen with a Cassina Tokyo Chaise Lounge. Photo – Tom Ferguson.

Back in the mid-century house in San Francisco, this living room’s bar is enveloped in a custom de Gournay silk inside a custom indigo-dyed ash cabinet with brass countertop and shelves. The inspiration from Japan is endless. Photo – William Abranowicz.

IN BED store’s first-ever flagship store in Paddington. This space references design ideas by American designer/craftsman George Nakashima. He introduced an appreciation of a tree’s natural forms and colours to celebrate its ‘imperfections’ to the American market. His live edge tables are iconic and he also designed pieces for Knoll, which blend American Shaker design with  Japanese joinery. Interiors –  We Are Triibe. Photo – Terence Chin.


It’s fascinating how Japan has influenced Western design for hundreds of years. Notably, designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and William Morris found inspiration from Japan during the rise of the Arts & Crafts movement. Many Nordic designers have also found common ground in their shared appreciation for fine craftsmanship.

From nature-inspired motifs, to the use of timber cladding and black lacquer, there are countless ways that Japan has influenced design and architecture in Australia and beyond. Personally, I’m totemo grateful!

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