The best of Washitsu Architecture
There are few things as beautiful as eastern architecture. The awesome traditional building styles of Asia are much different from what we are used to here, but they are still enamoring. One such style is Washitsu which will be our topic of discussion today as well as how you can change your home to have a more Washitsu feel.
Washitsu（和室） architecture is, simply put, traditional Japanese décor and design. When you translate it directly into English it literally means Japanese room. It is a way of decorating and design that is to be expected in a traditional Japanese home. It is a beautiful design and one that can be replicated here in our western housing market as well. While there are only a few companies that specialize in Washitsu architecture in the United States, a homeowner wanting to make one room in their home more Washitsu in nature could try hiring a contractor to do the work for them. But what makes Washitsu so mesmerizing and what all goes into it? There are a few design elements that are key parts of Washitsu, ones that would be integral in converting a room in your home to a more eastern feel.
The most iconic part of Washitsu architecture is the shoji door. Shoji doors are the lightweight sliding doors that use paper instead of wood as a divider. Now, there are two main aspects to the shoji door: its construction and its ability to slide.
When you look at the construction of a shoji door it embodies everything that we love about Japanese architecture. They are intricately made bamboo doors with latticework like grids that stretch from top to bottom and side to side of the frame. The latticework is then covered with traditional paper to provide a visual separation from the room to the rest of the house.
Now, why in the world would Washitsu call for sliding doors instead of hinged doors like we have here in our western homes? The main reason is space. In Japan, it can be a bit cramped; it is a chain of islands are mainly covered in rugged mountains which means almost all of their open space is used up by their ever growing population. So, with houses getting smaller and smaller they had to come up with a way to use their space more efficiently. Sliding doors allow them to use a lot more of a room than a hinged door would.
Fusuma is, in short, the ability to change a room’s size with the use of partitions. Traditional Japanese homes, because of the lack of space like we mentioned earlier, needed to be versatile so they came up with this effective partition system. With this system, one large room can be broken down into multiple small rooms making it unnecessary to build, and also heat, more rooms. These partitions are similar to the shoji doors and, in some cases, can even be similar in construction— if not identical.
Tatami mats are a mainstay of Washitsu. They are woven mats that are about an inch to an inch and a half thick. They were used in Japan instead of carpet like we use here and can still be seen in many modern Japanese homes.
These tatami mats are cushiony and soft making them ideal for sitting or kneeling on as is the custom in Japan. Only some modern Japanese homes have couches or armchairs and many simply still sit on the floor on the tatami or on small pillows.
Now, tatami is only used in a few select parts of a home like the living room, bedrooms, and so on. In parts of the home that are not covered in tatami, kitchens, bathrooms, stairs, etc., hardwood is used.
Now, the kotatsu isn’t necessarily a part of Japanese architecture, but rather a piece of furniture. However, they do really do bring the whole atmosphere together. Kotetsu's are basically coffee tables. However, they are made especially for the Japanese style of sitting. Like we said earlier, most of the time, time the Japanese sit on the floor which means their legs or knees will usually be under the coffee table if they are sitting right next to it.
Coffered ceilings are a great interior design choice whether you plan on a Washitsu design or not. They are not unique to eastern design and are a great way to add another dimension to the room. There are several ways to build coffered ceilings if your home does not already have them or you can talk to your local hardware store about a premade system. These may have a more western style, though, so, unless you can find some at the store that is eastern in nature, it might be best to just have them custom built.
The coffered ceiling is a feature that is still popular in traditionally constructed homes in Japan and is widely seen in older, more historically significant, buildings.
This is an interesting piece of design when it comes to Washitsu. The Tokonoma are special areas that are recessed into the wall for some sort of décor. You will usually see either a family shrine, a wall scroll, some sort of vase or plant set into these areas.
Washitsu Décor and Color Schemes
When it comes to decorating your Washitsu room you will find that it is a bit easier than a normal western style room. In Japan, Washitsu style rooms usually call for very simple, almost minimalist, decorating. One room will usually have maybe one or two things hanging on the wall if any, and sometimes some trinkets or other pieces of décor— but not much.
A lot of the time their décor will consist of things from nature. Whether it be flowers, an aesthetically pleasing piece of dry wood, or bonsai tree, it all is Washitsu. This call for natural décor is partly due to the tradition of respect for the land that still persists in Japan— a call that also inspired the color schemes as well. In traditional Washitsu, the colors are usually muted and in some way related to an earth tone. Bright colors are reserved for intricacies and highlights.
Now, we recognize that this is significantly different from what we are used to here in the states. So, if having a more Washitsu style in your home is something you want, but you don’t have the means to change much about your home, then you can always choose for more Washitsu decorations and hardware.