‘It’s a fine balance that is not easy to achieve’
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Japandi interiors are warm, elegant and rich in subtle, delicate details. It’s also a look that is tricky to get right, explains Highgate designer Esther Ivshin.
On first appearances, Japandi and cottagecore, the two big interiors trends to emerge this year, are miles apart.
The first style, as the name suggests, melds Japanese and Scandi design to create modern and minimalist interiors. The latter is nostalgia-laden maximalism.
However, Highgate interior designer Esther Ivshin, sees several parallels between the two. “They are two sides of the same coin,” she says. “Both give comfort, and they both tie into the ecological thinking of the past decade to use sustainable, natural materials and embrace the comfort of used, old things that last.
“There’s something very homely and inviting about both these trends,” Esther goes on to say. “Not everything has to be shiny and perfect; there’s room for frayed edges, asymmetry and things that are handmade.”
Esther suggests there is also a practical reason why Japandi interiors are currently having a moment too. “Our homes are our schools, offices, the coffee shop, restaurant and entertainment,” she says. “We don’t have space for everything - that’s why everyone has been decluttering while in lockdown.
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“Japandi is very practical,” she adds. “It doesn’t take up a lot of space, light comes through it, and it creates a comfortable feeling without over-cluttering a space.”
Departing from glitzy and glamorous interiors, Japandi strips a room back to an absolute minimum while creating a warm, relaxing space. It has all the structure, precision and sleekness both Japanese and Nordic design are known for, as well as the comfort and warmth of hygge - the Nordic idea based on creating a sense of wellbeing and cosiness - and wabi sabi - the Japanese notion of embracing the beauty of imperfection.
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“When you look at it, Japanese and Nordic design naturally fit together, even though they are from completely different places in the world,” says Esther.
“Both Japanese and Scandi design strip back the masquerade, and at their core is craftmanship, good quality, natural materials and things that take pride in the materials they are made of.”
They are also complementary in their differences. Japanese-style interiors are purposeful, and follow clear design principles based on functionality, balance and order (among other things). Everything in a room is there for a reason, and if you don’t fully understand these rules and reasons, explains Esther, “you risk your home looking like a cheap sushi shop”.
However Nordic style is much more forgiving and organic, and the beauty of Japandi “comes from the balance” between the two.
Natural, light woods are frequently featured, as are natural finishes, and cream, natural and muted colour schemes. That said, darker wood and black marble can also find their way into a Japandi style room too, however Esther suggests to stay away from plastics and metals, as “they are too man-made, too reflective and harsh for this style”.
Decluttering is key, and working out how to bring life and warmth into the space without filling every nook and cranny is part of the style’s challenge and charm.
“I think the warmth comes from the materials,” says Esther. “They are tactile, you want to touch them, and they exude a warmth because they are natural.
“The whole combination is elegant and delicate and everything is in all the little details. Nothing shouts at you. It’s a fine balance that is not easy to achieve.
“Finishes have to be impeccable because there is nothing to hid them,” she goes on to say. “It’s a tough line to walk.”
Because of this, Esther recommends getting in touch with a good interior designer, especially if you are going to invest in furniture. “Your home could easily look bare or fake,” says Esther. “There is as balance you need to strike between being homely and personal, but keeping a sense of minimalism as well.
Esther says it is important to find pieces that “speak the same language” but to also break this language up, so what you end up with is not a perfect room, but one that welcomes you in.
For example, a lounge suite or furniture set that looks beautiful on the showroom floor may lack that homely, lived-in feel once in your home. It may need a throw or cushions, or you could be better off individual pieces. “You don’t want it to look too intentional. You want it looking organic, and that always takes a bit of experience,” says Esther.
If you want to give it a crack yourself, however, or just want some inspiration, there are many Nordic and Japanese designers for you to discover.
To get you started, try Vitra or The Conran Shop if you have a bit of a budget to spend. West Elm and Hay stock Scandi-style furniture and soft furnishings, and high street’s Muji offers affordable home accessories. Pantechnicon in Belgravia, is dedicated to Japanese and Scandinavian design as well.
While Japandi may be finicky to nail and might require you to invest in pieces of furniture, Esther says it is an opportunity to get rid of things you don’t need, and a good baseline to add your own style to as well. “If you do it well,” she says, “it will serve you for many, many, years, and you won’t have to redo it.”