Japanese Zen Inspired Interior Design: Harmony and Mindfulness at Home

We are shaped by our thoughts, we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

Zen is a way of life. An intensely personal, severely stripped down search for meaning that elevates simplicity. It is this minimalist philosophy, that underpins Zen design. It embodies the use of natural elements, manipulation of light and a monastic rejection of clutter. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ sentiment is pertinent in Zen interior design.

A Zen home should be a reflection of peace, relaxation and inner sanctuary from the stresses of life in the outside world. Zen principles and philosophy is materialised through calm and neutral colours, minimalist and simple furniture, and a striking balance that allows positive energy to flow around the space.

Zen interior design is open to interpretation, but ultimately, the final product should emit a sense of peace, balance and mindfulness. Here you will find a comprehensive guide to all the defining elements of Japanese Zen design, and their contribution to the Zen ideology.

Colour Palette

zen inspired interior design

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Zen is to promote values of meditation and intuition. In doing so, the manipulation of certain colours becomes an essential element in creating a Zen retreat. Earthy and natural colours will lend to the sense of peace in the internal space. The use of natural colours that mimic those found in nature is also central in creating an environment of harmony.

A monochromatic theme of white or beige walls and ceilings throughout the home creates a seamless aura of peace and tranquillity. This should be uninterrupted by bold colours which may connote sentiments of extreme emotion incompatible with the notion of Zen.



‘The lamps are different, but the light is the same: it comes from beyond’.- Rumi.

The notion of Zen emphasises the concept of inner light and its ability to guide our intuition. With such in mind, the room in which we place ourselves should be lit by natural and soft light to elicit a Zen mindset.

In instances where natural light is limited, harsh fluorescent lights should be replaced with soft, nature-inspired or candle lights. Having different sources of light is key to a Zen environment. At different moments in the day, you will be in different phases of Zen- each requiring slight adjustments to your environment. When creating a Zen interior, the designer should allow for the control of the intensity of light. This can be through the use of ceiling lights, as well as floor lamps, candle lights and manipulation of natural light.


Natural Textures

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Once again, the use of textures and materials in Zen interiors are strategically put in place to mimic those found in nature. Bamboo is widely used in Asian interior design, prized for its durability, sustainability and sense of natural calm. The grandeur of bamboo flooring can be replicated with tan and brown bamboo rugs.

Equally, the use of wood and other natural materials should be in combination with soft textures to strike a balance of comfort.


Use of Storage

Zen-inspired interior design is subjective, and open to the interpretation of the designer. One thing each interpretation has in common, is that Zen interior should have hidden storage and very little if any, unnecessary clutter on display.

Based on the principle of Zen, the interior of a room should be infused with hidden storage units to create a mindful atmosphere. This can be achieved by incorporating furniture that doubles as storage.


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Smell and Sound

The strings used to manipulate the interior of a room can be stretched beyond the visuals. Interior designers have the capacity to encompass all senses to enhance the value of the space. The ability to engage with all the senses is crucial , and is as vital as sight and touch in a living or working space. A Zen-inspired room, with the focus of peace and harmony in mind, should emit specific smells and sounds to compliment the colours, furnishings, textures and lighting of the room.  

Sensory studies have found that the use of aromatic substances can help to elicit a sense of inner peace and mindfulness. The traditional use of oils, scented candles and incense an help to achieve this. More recently, digital scent technology has been used to transmit specific scents into a room to accommodate the theme.

Similarly, the manipulation of sound in an internal environment, include all things from designing walls and floors to minimise unwanted sounds, to intentionally transmitting a particular sound to evoke a response. Certain music and white noise can relieve stress, calm the environment and generate a mood that stimulates relaxation.

“Daijiryohitsu”- 大事了畢 – “to finish understanding the great matter” (Japanese Zen). Which in this case, is of course Zen interior design. The underlying principles of Zen in the home should be awakened through calming colours, natural textures, soft and natural lighting, a zero-clutter tolerance and of course, designing for all the senses.

It should be noted, that the environment in which you situate yourself, should be a reflection of your thoughts. After all, we are what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.  

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