Japandi is a recently landed interior style that blends the minimalism of Japanese design with the functionality of Scandinavian decor. It’s going to be a popular one. Ireland’s grá for all things Scandi runs very deep and Japan is trending, thanks to the Tokyo Olympics. Not to mention the undisputed reign of Marie Kondo, queen of decluttering. Japandi promises to bridge the 8,000km gap between the two decorative styles, but there’s a certain amount of head-scratching about what it actually is.
t first glance, it seems an unlikely pairing. Scandinavia and Japan are not only far away from each other, they’re also radically different in terms of lifestyle, architecture and climate. And yet, they have a shared affinity when it comes to design.
Both cultures prioritise design in a way that’s hard to understand from an Irish perspective. A taxi-driver in Helsinki once told me that virtually every home in the country has a version of the iconic Alvar Aalto Savoy vase. These would be authorised reproductions. No Finnish person, he explained, would accept a cheap knock-off of such a significant part of their heritage.
Japanese people have a similar love of well-designed objects. In Takamatsu, the owner of an Irish bar proudly showed me the mouth-blown whiskey glasses that he used to serve his most discerning customers.
The glasses were truly beautiful and cost €100 each (he also had bog standard Guinness glasses for the pint-swilling Irish).
Since both cultures place a high value on craftsmanship, simplicity, and natural materials, Japandi interiors tend to be light airy spaces with minimal furniture, often made in wood. Expect a calm fresh atmosphere, muted earth tones, simple clean lines, a high degree of functionality. And no shoes in the house.
The blend of interiors styles is helpful, as it makes Japanese influences more appropriate for Irish homes.
In terms of dimensions and layout, Scandinavian houses and apartments are similar to our own, but Japanese interior design is deeply connected to a uniquely traditional way of living.
Miyuki Katsu Maloney comes from Toyko and lives in the west of Ireland where she and her Irish husband are in the middle of a self-build project that she describes as “Toyko meets Mayo”. Mayokyo?
The exterior of the house is pure Irish, built in a farmhouse style with nothing to suggest the Japandi interior within. This begins at the entrance with a traditional “doma genkan”, which is a place for people to change from their outdoor shoes to indoor sandals.
“This way, we can keep our house mud free which makes cleaning the floor much easier,” Maloney says. “It’s also handy for buggy or umbrellas.”
The layout of the house is a blend of cultures, conceived with the help of a spatial designer in Tokyo and an Irish engineer. Inside, the staircase begins in the middle of the dining area rather than in a separate hallway. This is a common layout in Japan.
“Our designer suggested this so that young family members can’t just come home through the door and rush up the stairs into their own rooms without seeing anyone.” The stairs have a plywood-clad wall on one side and timber slats on the other. These, Maloney points out, are a design feature common to both Japanese and Scandinavian homes. They offer privacy, but allow the light to shine through.
Part of the split-level living area will have traditional Japanese tatami mats instead of carpeting and the upstairs will have a Japanese-style bathroom with separate wet and dry areas and no loo. “I can’t sit in the bath and relax while looking at the pot,” Maloney says.
She doesn’t fancy an ensuite either. “Japanese people wouldn’t want to have a toilet in the bedroom. They’d prefer to have it in a different room.” Irish design influences include a big kitchen island and a utility room at the back door. Japandi is typically a minimalist style, with possessions kept out of sight.
Maloney’s not sure how this is going to work in practice. “It will be difficult,” she says. “Japanese houses are usually full of stuff and I’m not very tidy. That clean uncluttered space is something that I have never been able to achieve.”
Japandi as an interiors style is not yet heavily marketed, though doubtless that will come. At the moment, it’s much more in the spirit of both traditions to seek out carefully crafted objects for the home.
While the influence of Scandinavian design common in Ireland, a few Irish craftspeople also declare the influence of Japan.
For Muriel Beckett, whose rugs and wall-hangings are handwoven on a loom, the journey began with a year spent studying woven textiles in Finland.
“I was strongly influenced by the Scandinavian aesthetic, by the beauty and simplicity of everyday objects which stemmed from a functional approach to design.” Later in her career, she discovered an affinity with Japan.
“I have always admired Japanese prints for the contrast between the beautifully drawn imagery of flowing lines and pattern balanced by areas which can be left undecorated, giving space where the eye can rest. In some of my earlier work
“I directly referenced images of poppies and tea flowers; now my textiles have less imagery and depend on pattern, colour, texture and weave, striving for the balance, simplicity and symmetry found in the design aesthetics of Scandinavia and the Far East.” Beckett’s work is individually priced, with rugs from €450 per square metre and wall hangings from €500.
Ruth Power of Danu Ceramics has travelled extensively in the Far East. She already knew about wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic that sees the beauty in imperfect things, but was impressed by the strength of the ceramic tradition.
“Each area I travelled to had ceramics made from regional clay with glazes made from local minerals,” she says.
In Takayama, she bought some Irabo-glazed pottery from Dai Nagakura, owner of Koito pottery. He told her about his belief that Japanese pottery has a quality that is harmonious with the natural world.
“This informs my own designs, which use very organic shapes and natural motifs full of symbolism. My techniques are also very ‘low tech’, using very simple hand-building techniques to preserve the natural characteristics of the material,” Power says.
Her decorated bowls and trinket dishes (from €28) are a blend of Eastern influences with Irish folklore. Some are decorated with an image of a hazel leaf, which was a symbol of wisdom in Irish myth; others with dragonflies. “In Japan, they are symbols of rebirth, courage, strength, and happiness.”
See @our.japandi.selfbuild, murielbeckett.ie, danuceramics.ie