Making the most of space — Japanese-style living

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Redecorating, Remodeling    by: ITC

The Japanese have made an art of living in small spaces, using sliding screens and doors to make their living spaces highly versatile. Sliding partitions can also play a part in saving space in Western households. We have already recognized the value of the futon, and have adopted it as a good-looking means of providing seating during the day and bedding at night. Japanese rooms are low as well as small, so much so that you can often reach up and touch the ceiling. They are mostly absolutely square, with perhaps one recess in the best room.

Rooms are divided by sliding partitions or screens consisting of lightweight frames covered with rice paper to let the light through. In a traditional Japanese house the futons are stored in a cupboard during the day, since the Japanese kneel rather than sit and would have no use for a sofa.

Screens in Western homes do not have to be sliding or fitted. Folding screens have been used for centuries to keep out drafts, to provide an element of privacy while people were dressing and as a psychological division between one part of a room and another. Recently they have begun to be popular again. In a room in which several activities take place at the same time, a screen can be used to separate the kitchen-dining area, say, from the main living area. Folding screens can be covered in woven tapestry fabric or in decoupage. You could also use lace or anything else you think would look good.

Japanese-type shoji screens can be bought in shops specializing in futons and other Japanese furniture, but they are very simple to make yourself. Use them to cover untidy shelving, to screen a window with an ugly view or as room-dividers. Venetian blinds can also be used to divide a room, but are pulled up rather than folded vertically.

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