Where east meets west — Washitsu architecture in your home


Washitsu: traditional Japanese room design and interior architecture

For some, there is nothing quite as beautiful as traditional Japanese culture and architecture (Washitsu). It is a style that evokes a sense of serenity and peace with its simplistic design and seamless harmony with nature. It is a style that, even in today’s modern era, still persists in many homes over in Japan. But, how about here in a western style home? Is there a way to convert a room in your home from our western style to that of ancient Japan?

Eastern Style in your Western Home

There are only a few construction companies around the nation that build Japanese style homes. However, if you were to only want to convert a single room to be Japanese, then you may consider either doing it yourself (only if you are trained and able to do so) or look for a contractor that is willing to do some outside the box work. Before you start contacting contractors about this kind of project, you should have an idea of what you want. The following are the main aspects of Japanese architecture, and design that you will want to include in your new

Paper Sliding Doors (Shoji)

When people think about Japanese rooms and houses they usually think first of the sliding paper doors, and for good reason— they are a vital part of Washitsu design. The Japanese realized very early on that their island wasn’t very large and that they would need to conserve as much space as possible. Because of this, they used sliding doors instead of hinge doors as they allowed rooms and hallways to be used more efficiently.

These sliding doors are usually built on a wooden track system. Each sliding door is usually made from lightweight wood like bamboo to make moving them easier. Next, more lightweight wooden pieces are used to create a latticework like grid that fills in the rest of the door. Lastly, paper is laid across the door and is adhered to the frame and then the latticework for support creating a visual barrier with fewer materials and less space.

Space Manipulation (Fusuma)

Another key part of Japanese architecture is the ability to change the size of a room with the use of partitions. In most Japanese houses they will have a large room that is broken into several smaller rooms. These rooms are separated by more paper (or lightweight wood) sliding panels. That way, a homeowner could push open the sliding partitions to make the room larger if they so desired, or they could close the partitions to make more or smaller rooms. This would require the room to have multiple wooden track systems put in the ground and ceiling.

Tatami and Hardwood

The next most important thing to have in a Japanese style room is tatami and or hardwood. You see, traditional Japanese homes do not have carpet, they only have what are called tatami mats or hardwood. Most of the house is usually covered in hardwood (areas like kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, etc. However, living rooms, bedrooms, and so on usually have these tatami mats. These are woven mats that are cushiony and soft. This is an important part because the Japanese normally don’t have couches. They simply sit on the floor. This means that they want it to be comfortable and the soft and cushiony properties of the tatami are perfect for sitting on.


Next, there is the Kotatsu. These are not necessarily a part of Japanese architecture as much of Japanese furniture. You see, the kotatsu is a Japanese style coffee table. What makes these special though is the fact that they have heaters attached to the underside of the table pointed downward. Since the Japanese usually sit on the ground, a lot of time their legs and or feet are under the coffee table. The kotatsu then allows you to keep your feet and legs warm in the winter (usually a large square blanket is placed on top of the table to trap the heat in and another hard surface is placed on top of the blanket so that the coffee table is still usable).

Coffered Ceilings

Coffered ceilings are not unique to Asian architecture, but they are something that you can almost expect to see in most traditional Japanese households. These, when done right, can add some awesome dimension to your room. You can either build the coffers yourself or you can shop around for some premade systems. (There are some that are premade and easy to install). Now, since these are features that you can see in both western and eastern style homes, you will want to make sure that you use a very muted earth-toned color scheme as this will be more in line with the Japanese way of doing things. (Make sure that the ceiling colors match the walls and doors).


The Tokonoma is a small reassessed area that is designed to hold décor. This can be anything from a shrine to a simple wall scroll or any other Japanese style décor.

Simplistic Décor

On that note, Japanese décor is usually simple and almost minimalist. In Washitsu style, a room will usually have maybe one or two wall hangings only as well as a few things like vases or a plant.

Japanese décor almost always calls for the use of nature in their decorating. This could mean the use of rocks, or maybe a Zen garden; it could also mean using arranged twigs in a vase or anything like that. In essence, you are bringing the outside, inside. This is done to both capture the beauty and serenity of nature and to also show the connection to nature that the traditional Japanese had.

Now, transforming a room from our western style to Washitsu is a massive undertaking. So, if you can’t or don’t want to go through with this kind of an endeavor, there are simpler ways to capture the essence of a traditional Japanese interior.

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