The Japanese Tradition of How to Work with Neutrals and Color Trends

Every year, the color industry expert, Pantone,  announces a new Color of the Year.  This year’s 2014 color is Radiant Orchid.  As the name suggests, it’s a radiant shade of lavender.   Creating trends are the brain child of marketers, who find a way to make everyone feel they have to stay up to date with the times.  Following trends does help guide us with fresh ideas and images that resonate with the times.  But, is it really necessary to follow them all the time?  How do we work with neutrals and color trends?

My approach to design is to create an environment that is timeless.  This doesn’t mean one can’t incorporate color trends in their interior. It just means being conscious of where and when to add color and trends.  My rule of thumb is to use neutral colors and finishes for places that are built-in and part of the structure.  Color trends should be used for accents and accessories.

Built-in materials and structural materials can’t be changed very easily or they are very costly to change.  These include cabinets, flooring, counter tops, tile, fixtures, fire places and plumbing.  By neutral, I mean earth tones, whites, beiges, grays, browns and a natural palette, meaning colors often found in nature.   Trendy colors used as accents, add a touch of fun, energy, and personality.  This can be achieved with paint, furniture,  accessories, and art.  These items are often easier and less costly to change, switch, and update.

Neutrals are not a trend.  Some may say that neutrals are even boring.  Others say neutrals make a space feel dated.  But I’d have to disagree.  Because much of my inspiration comes from Japan, if you look at their traditional homes, there is nothing boring about them.  In fact, architectural students from all over the world travel to Japan to study the traditional buildings, temples, shrines, castles and homes.  They are all neutral in material and color, because they used natural materials.  And to me, they are beautiful and timeless.  It always feel warm, relaxed and calm.  These materials and colors create spaces that never shout at you.  In fact, they seem to embrace you.

Traditionally, in Asia there was no such thing as paint.  In Japan, the walls were made out of a natural plaster, a combination of straw and sand.  If you have seen or been in a traditional Japanese setting, you will notice the walls have an earthy texture and color.   It’s similar to the color of  wet sand or ochre.  The sliding doors are made of washi or rice paper and wood.  The floors are covered in tatami,  woven straw mats.  These are all natural materials of the earth.  So obviously, the colors are natural and the materials have texture and volume.  Decor came in the shape of carvings, calligraphy, flower arrangement, pottery, and/or brush paintings on screens or directly on the sliding doors.  This simple interior is still commonly followed.

As I’ve studied feng shui, I’ve come to understand that all things have an innate energy.  We immediately understand that material objects have an energy.  But we often don’t realize that space is an energy too.   When you observe an object, you may feel it’s energy from it’s form, material, and color.  But the empty or negative space  around the object has no material or color.  Yet it also has an energy.  We must respect that space too.

In a Japanese traditional room, the essence of an empty and neutral room creates a backdrop for whatever you wish to be the center of focus.  This could be a scroll or piece of pottery.  Even a simple lacquered bowl or fresh flowers.  Because there are so few items, they are not fighting for attention.  Each piece can thus be enjoyed and appreciated.  But, more than the energy of objects, living things such as plants, animals and people have a higher energy.  In any given space, humans are more attracted to living energy.

Now, when the room is empty, with only a few objects that take our energy, we are able to focus on what’s most important.  And that’s  people and living things.  People in the same room exchange energy, regardless of  interaction.  This connection is good for our relationships and our well-being.  And that’s why, the space and you will feel good.

So, the next time you’re ready to paint your home.  Look to nature for inspiration.  Try to keep a neutral back drop with your built-in materials.  If you want to  you will add a pop of the trendy color of the year go ahead.  Find a bright pillow, vase, art piece, fresh flowers, or whatever you fancy!






4 Comments

  1. Hi Jenny – would love to know the pros & cons of tatami Mats in my meditation space in Australian home please. Would you help? Weather at times humid. Home is extra insulated & with dbl glazing. Any tips gratefully received 🙏

  2. Hi Sally – Traditional tatami mats are made of natural rush grass straw and the interiors are natural materials too making them super heavy. Today, there are a vast selection of “tatami”, some made of synthetic materials that are light, and are more similar to rugs that can be placed over hardwood. For your meditation room, natural is best. That being said, traditional tatami mats are placed on a raised platform frame about a foot off the floor. This is because being a natural material it needs to “breathe.” A tatami floor can work in a humid space. Just note that it absorbs the moisture and if not careful, it can get mildew. In the old days, the mats were aired in the sun from time to time. For cleaning purposes, just vacuum and then wipe down with a wet cloth using just water and no chemicals. Personally, I love the natural texture and smell of tatami. It also has a warmth and resilience to it that I think would make a wonderful flooring for a meditation room. Best, Jenny

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