‘Japandi’: Why Japanese-meets-Scandi design is taking over the internet

Written by Hannah Pham, CNN

The comfortable purity of Scandinavian interiors and the minimalist elegance of traditional Japanese decor have made them both staples of modern home design. Now, there is a growing trend that combines the two: “Japandi.”

Google searches for the term skyrocketed in the winter of 2020, as people around the world rearranged their homes amid the Covid-19 lockdown. Interest has grown slightly since then, according to data from Google Trends.

“I think a lot of people were looking for a relaxing style,” said Laila Rietnergen, author of the new book “Japandi Living” in an email interview. “The calm and serene beauty of the Japanese style and the long-lasting craftsmanship perfectly suit these needs.”

A clay tea pot rests on a smooth wooden table.

A clay tea pot rests on a smooth wooden table. Credit: Wij Zijn Kees

Zeitgeisty as it seems, this design combination dates back to the 1860s, says Rietnergen. He traces the roots of the aesthetic to Danish army lieutenant William Carstensen, who visited Japan as the country opened up after two centuries of isolation. It was his book “Japan’s Capital and the Japanese” that first forced Danish designers to go to Japan, where they discovered that both cultures value simplicity and natural beauty, said Rietnergen.

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Fast forward to today, modern interior designers are rediscovering the same things in a penchant for neutral tones, natural materials and minimal decoration.

As well as providing helpful tips for readers, Rietnergen’s book features dozens of pictures of clean Japanese-style houses. As cozy as they are sleek, the living spaces are decorated with soft paper lamps and inviting cream sofas hand-crafted by Scandinavian designers.

Soft paper later complements a neat bookshelf.

Soft paper later complements a neat bookshelf. Credit: Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen

In another, the sleek kitchen peeks out to reveal light brown cabinets that complement the dining room’s wheat and dark tones. The plant adds a pop of green to the room. Rietnergen says that both Scandinavian and Japanese design emphasize the importance of nature, not only with colors such as light browns, tans and soft whites, but also by using materials such as linen and wood to create a peaceful atmosphere.

Hygge and wabi-sabi

The key to Japanese design is to create something subtly decorated without feeling empty — in a beautiful space but where you “can feel at home and comfortable,” says Rietnergen, whose Instagram page @japandi.interior has nearly 450,000 followers.

Doing so revolves around two design principles: “hygge,” a Danish and Norwegian word related to a sense of comfort and warmth, and “wabi-sabi,” the Japanese concept of embracing imperfection.

To achieve anything, it’s important to eliminate waste, Rietnergen said, citing Japanese organizing expert Marie Kondo whose approach to home organization became a global phenomenon following the success of her Netflix show, “Decluttering with Marie Kondo.” Rietnergen, like Kondo, recommends treating tidying less as a chore and more as a celebration — and an opportunity to reflect on whether the things around you make you happy.

Japanese style also celebrates creativity, whether it’s the simple sculptures of Isamu Noguchi or the furniture of Carl Hansen, whose wishbone chairs sell for thousands of dollars. But Rietnergen insists that beauty can be achieved by those who decorate on a budget. After all, he says, it is a philosophy guided by the belief that “less is more.”

Soft tones of white and brown are combined with the tree.

Soft tones of white and brown are combined with the tree. Credit: Wij Zijn Kees

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Rather than buying cheap, mass-produced furniture that won’t last long, Rietnergen suggests buying second-hand while saving for those few standout pieces that you can treasure for years. And, in any case, the beauty of Japanese design is that there are no strict methods to follow, the author added.

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“Every Japanese home and style is interpreted differently,” she said. “It is really important to have the courage to choose. Your home is not a show place and it should not be a copy paste of something you have seen. The important part is to add personal elements and things.”

Credit: Cocoon

Japanese Life: Japanese Culture. Scandinavian design,” published by Lannoo, is available now.

Top image: Interior with MENU Space.


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