10 Zen Homes That Champion Japanese Design

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By Michele Koh Morollo
From mono no aware, the awareness of the transience of things, to wabi-sabi, the appreciation of imperfection, Japanese design principles have influenced architects all over the world.

Rhythmic wooden structural frames, narrow corridors, internal courtyards, sliding screen doors, tansu-style hidden cabinetry, and coffered ceilings are just some of the features you’ll find in many traditional homes in Japan. Japanese Zen philosophy also emphasizes purity, simplicity, and tranquility—a focus that has spread to guide modern design around the world.

Below, we pay homage with 10 homes that capture the calm and contemplative spirit of Japanese architecture and design. 

Tropical Zen

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In this Brazilian home, São Paulo studio Jacobsen Arquitetura placed laminated timber porticoes approximately 1.31 feet apart, to create a dynamic linear aesthetics that brings to mind the tori gates of Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari shrine.

In this Brazilian home, São Paulo studio Jacobsen Arquitetura placed laminated timber porticoes approximately 1.31 feet apart, to create a dynamic linear aesthetics that brings to mind the tori gates of Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari shrine.

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This Southern Californian home by architect Sebastian Mariscal has a wabi-sabi spirit, and is built with shou sugi ban timber, has a koi pond, wand a protective overhang, and a tertiary space known in in traditional Japanese homes as the "engawa" that floats about ground level.

This Southern Californian home by architect Sebastian Mariscal has a wabi-sabi spirit, and is built with shou sugi ban timber, has a koi pond, wand a protective overhang, and a tertiary space known in in traditional Japanese homes as the "engawa" that floats about ground level.

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When redesigning "Madmen" actor Vincent Kartheiser’s Hollywood cabin, architect Funn Roberts installed custom shoji-style screens of to conceal the closet and provide privacy for the adjacent shower and soaking tub.

When redesigning "Madmen" actor Vincent Kartheiser’s Hollywood cabin, architect Funn Roberts installed custom shoji-style screens of to conceal the closet and provide privacy for the adjacent shower and soaking tub.

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Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1955, the Louis Penfield House is a 1,730-square-foot, residence in Lake County, Ohio, that has details like ribbon windows, "goutenjou" coffered ceilings, and a floating wooden staircase inspired by Japanese minimalism.

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1955, the Louis Penfield House is a 1,730-square-foot, residence in Lake County, Ohio, that has details like ribbon windows, "goutenjou" coffered ceilings, and a floating wooden staircase inspired by Japanese minimalism.

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For this 780-square-foot apartment Hong Kong apartment, local practice MNB Design Studio used plywood, smart storage solutions, and tapped into the principles of origami to create a highly structured, minimalist home. 

For this 780-square-foot apartment Hong Kong apartment, local practice MNB Design Studio used plywood, smart storage solutions, and tapped into the principles of origami to create a highly structured, minimalist home. 

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Fashion designer Josie and her husband Ken Natori are big fans of traditional Japanese architecture, so when Brooklyn-based practice Tsao & McKown Architects designed their home in Pound Ridge, New York, they used a heavy, exposed-timber structure, and included Japanese-style gardens and landscaping.

Fashion designer Josie and her husband Ken Natori are big fans of traditional Japanese architecture, so when Brooklyn-based practice Tsao & McKown Architects designed their home in Pound Ridge, New York, they used a heavy, exposed-timber structure, and included Japanese-style gardens and landscaping.

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To maximize space in this tiny 323-square-foot studio Budapest apartment, local design studio POSITION Collective used an elevated, plywood sleeping unit inspired by Japanese "tansu" mobile cabinetry, with secrete storage modules on the side of the steps leading up to the futon bed.

To maximize space in this tiny 323-square-foot studio Budapest apartment, local design studio POSITION Collective used an elevated, plywood sleeping unit inspired by Japanese "tansu" mobile cabinetry, with secrete storage modules on the side of the steps leading up to the futon bed.

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Architect Charlie Lazor designed this peaceful, lakeside prefab in Ontario, Canada with a Japanese-style bathroom, clad in teak, with a matching tub and sink by Bath in Wood.

Architect Charlie Lazor designed this peaceful, lakeside prefab in Ontario, Canada with a Japanese-style bathroom, clad in teak, with a matching tub and sink by Bath in Wood.

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Inspired by modern Japanese minimalism, Hong Kong practice JAAK demolished the walls of this two-bedroom apartment and remodelled it into a studio with an "engawa" — a space between the indoor and outdoor areas – that helps maximize light penetration into the interiors. 

Inspired by modern Japanese minimalism, Hong Kong practice JAAK demolished the walls of this two-bedroom apartment and remodelled it into a studio with an "engawa" — a space between the indoor and outdoor areas – that helps maximize light penetration into the interiors. 

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Influenced by both Benedictine monasteries and Japanese residences, award-winning British architect John Pawson created The Life House – a minimalist holiday rental home in Wales with a pure and uncluttered ambience that encourages a state of quietude and contemplation.

Influenced by both Benedictine monasteries and Japanese residences, award-winning British architect John Pawson created The Life House – a minimalist holiday rental home in Wales with a pure and uncluttered ambience that encourages a state of quietude and contemplation.

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