How Japanese-imported minimalism can help you maximise space

For generations, many of us in Western countries have been obsessed with the idea that bigger is better. Needing more space, a bigger garden, two bathrooms… However in Japan, something very different is going on. There are an abundance of inventive interior designers and architects who are using the limited space that Japan has to offer to its full potential.

Tiny living has become the norm, and you’ll find full-sized families living happily in 50m2 apartments. From the outside, such minimalist-inspired design tends to use pure geometric forms in their construction such as rectangles, triangles, circles and cubes, and with simple and plain materials. Everything tends to be neat and perpendicular, whilst it embraces the idea that repetition and homogeneity offers a sense of unification and tranquility.

Simple, open spaces may or may not be for everyone. There’s no doubt that modern furniture is often built in a versatile way to have multiple uses. 

Examples of doubling up and maximising space

It’s about doubling up and versatility. An example would be a rolling wall divider to help demarcate rooms temporarily. The kitchen can be smaller than the living room in the daytime, but when hosting a dinner party in the kitchen, the rolling wall can change the ratios and double the size of the kitchen. This allows construction to be more simplistic in its foundation, because the owners of the home can actually design the rooms.

Another great example is the wall bed. If living in a studio or a small 1-bedroom apartment, the bed can sap out 30 square feet of precious space. A wall bed allows you to fold the bed into the wall, and thus only invading 1 foot into the room. Once in its vertical position, the wall itself can now have uses, where it wouldn’t otherwise. Perhaps a simpler example of this is the sofa bed, but these seldom save as much space as intended.

Storage is often inspired by tiny homes and minimalists for its practicality. Instead of packing household items into drawers or a cupboard, try being more inventive. For example, each stair, often goes unused, as does inside a sofa. Many have taken to using rolling boxes as chairs for guests, too.

Some other examples of multi-use furniture

  • Convertible/extending dining table
  • Coffee table book case
  • Mirror ironing board
  • Bike shelf
  • Matroshka
  • Dining table/pool table

It is said that genius comes from simplicity — so why over-complicate a home? In times of population density, we should be embracing the ingenuity that comes from getting the absolute most out of something that appears to be limited, whether it’s a small apartment or even a recreational van. And with vans being converted to tiny homes on trailers, the line between van life and ‘normal’ apartment living is becoming blurred.

Whilst construction will react to the reality of our limited space as well as the economics of flat-building, interior design is currently failing to keep up with such changes.


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BDC 318 : Jul 2024