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Has Japanese Minimalism Replaced Its Scandinavian Counterpart?

The difference between the two decor styles.

Domino
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Photo by Nicole Franzen; Design by Space Exploration Design; Object sourcing by Staci Dover Design; Styling by Katja Greef.

Blame it on the proliferation of IKEA catalogs around the world or the sudden fascination with hygge, but Scandinavian minimalism has dominated design trends for the greater part of a decade—and for good reason. Danish designers have been creating iconic furniture pieces since the mid-20th century, while Swedes have perfected the art of rug weaving and flat-pack furniture.

While the sleek, discerning design influences of Scandinavian countries are still very much at the forefront of decor trends—just turn to Walmart’s latest furniture collection for proof—more avant-garde designers are drawing on a new part of the world for minimalist inspiration: Japan. Little by little, sheepskin rugs and powder-coated side tables are being replaced by wood-paneled walls and Noguchi lanterns.

But what exactly is Japanese minimalism, and how does it differ from the Scandinavian version? Despite having many similarities—a passion for organizing, a love of simple functionality, and a dedication to sustainability—it also bears many differences, as outlined below. Get ready to embrace a whole new version of minimalism.

Embrace Warm Colors Versus Cool Ones

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Photo courtesy of Annaleena.

Scandinavian style is often composed of very cool neutral tones: white or gray walls, white sofas, light-blond wood floors—occasionally breaking protocol with a pop of color like deep indigo or dark forest green.

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Photo by William Waldron; Design by Commune Design.

Japanese minimalism, on the other hand, embraces warmer hues in the form of wood-paneled walls, cream accents, and a mostly monochromatic palette that once in a while includes a soft marigold, ochre, or blush tone.

Organize Your Home at Muji Instead of IKEA

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Photo by Ragnar Ómarsson; Styling by Pella Hedeby.

Swedes swear by IKEA’s Pax system and Malm dresser for organizing every last item in their home. We can’t blame them; the retail giant’s storage offering is extensive, while its catalog offers plenty of organizing ideas.

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Photo by Douglas Friedman; Design by Catherine Kwong.

While Japanese interiors are just as meticulously organized as Scandinavian ones, the former have another tool in their arsenal: the Konmari method. In fact, Japanese minimalism prioritizes decluttering above all. As for the remaining clutter, the Japanese favor the retail chain Muji over the Scandinavian giant.

Embrace Imperfections, Not Sleek Finishes

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Photo by Ragnar Ómarsson; Styling by Pella Hedeby.

Scandinavians often favor sleek interiors with matte and glossy—but pristine—finishes: Powder-coated steel, molded plastic, and glass are the materials of choice. Few exceptions are peppered throughout Nordic interiors in the form of sheepskin throws and the odd antique or vintage stool.

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Photo courtesy of Chan and Aeyrs.

Design-minded Japanese, however, embrace a patinaed interior, full of plastered walls, paper lampshades, reclaimed wood, and hand-thrown ceramics. Thus, Japanese interiors can often feel a little warmer and less clinical than their Scandinavian counterpart.

Adopt the Wabi-Sabi Philosophy Instead of Hygge

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Photo by Erik Lefvander; Design by Liljencrantz Design.

Hygge gained steam a few years back as a cultural philosophy that embraces coziness and conviviality. Though minimal Scandinavian spaces often feature cool tones and sleek materials, the addition of a fur throw here and a candle there helps Nordic homes feel welcoming and warm.

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Photo courtesy of Chan and Aeyrs.

Similarly, the Japanese equivalent philosophy is wabi-sabi, or the acceptance of transience and imperfections as a beautiful attribute, not a flaw. As such, Japanese minimalists love materials that will patina over time: oxidized copper, aged wood, clay, and linen. It’s a subtle difference, but one that focuses on a home’s rough materials as opposed to smaller cozy accents.

Gabrielle Savoie is the Senior Home Editor at Domino.