In pre-Covid times, Singaporeans were one of the most avid travellers in the region. It therefore comes as no surprise that many of our homes are usually inspired by the places we have been and seen. These modern ryokan-inspired homes below that take inspiration from traditional Japanese inns are no different.
Made from traditional materials like bamboo and wood, ryokans are typically located in the rural countryside of Japan. Inside the ryokan, sliding paper screens—shoji—separate rooms decorated in tatami mats and futons, as well as a low wooden table and zabuton for sitting. Partaking in a traditional Japanese bath or a tea ceremony is also part of the ryokan experience.
But what is the ryokan appeal for our modern homes? Is it a call for the idyllic, for the simpler and slower pace of life that permeates the countryside? Or a reminiscence of the rich culture and gentle hospitality that we hope to replicate?
Whatever the reason, we cannot deny the ryokan’s quiet charm. If you’ve always wanted a home that looks like one, take inspiration from these modern ryokan homes that have married modern creature comforts with the elements of tradition impeccably.
1. A flexible modern ryokan home for a family of 5 by Pencil Office
The wooden screens, crafted to look like the ones seen in a ryokan, form the basis of the design of this apartment. Paired with laminated glass positioned in between the slats, the sliding screens separate the different areas of the home to allow for more flexibility in the use of the various spaces.
Closed off completely, the screens offer acoustic privacy without having to sacrifice the diffused daylight that gets filtered through. When opened, the apartment becomes a large and airy open-concept space.
This versatility was necessary for this family of five. The adults hosted guests over often, and would often entertain in the dining area or kitchen. They thus wanted to still be able to keep an eye on their young children while retaining a certain amount of privacy when hosting.
Parts of the home retain the original marble flooring, lending a subtle elegance to this minimal space. The rest of the home features a light-toned oak, with the lattice design of the screens casting interesting shadows and offering visual interest amidst the minimal material palette.
2. Attention to details in this 3,500-sqft residence by Upstairs and In-Expat
Enthusiasts of Japanese and Chinese cultures, the homeowners’ brief to the designer was simple enough: to create a ryokan style home for this family of three, along with their lived-in helper. What resulted is a home with meticulous attention to detail and a deep sense of care in regards to the materials and palettes used.
Because of the sprawling square feet, much of the original space was under-utilised. The home was thus reconfigured and left more open and fluid, with screens and columns to segregate the zones.
In the foyer for instance, a structural column was redesigned into a sculptural piece lined with oak veneers and curved edges to serve as a form of visual navigation between the main communal areas. Seigaiha-patterned screens are also decked out throughout.
The open kitchen, previously a tight and cramped space, now features a gorgeous 5-metre long island with plenty of room for food prep or light casual meals. Directly connected to the dining area, it is surrounded by sleek oak cabinets, with appliances flush neatly for a minimal aesthetic.
The living room sits on a sunken level for distinction, evoking the layered spaces seen commonly in a ryokan. One enters this space by stepping down on a Naguri textured plinth that can double up as a tatami platform when there are extra guests. The same material is seen again in the master bedroom, as a form of transition between the balcony and the sleeping sanctuary.
Lending a wonderful contrast, the bathroom evokes a deep dark marble. You see the same material being subtly used throughout the home, seemingly culminating in this most private space of this apartment.
3. An apartment with a $70K budget by Sync Interior
This 4-room flat is home to a couple that fell in love with Kyoto when they visited the Japanese city some years back. So much so that they decided to turn their Strathmore home into a space that resembles a minka, a traditional Japanese house.
Taking architectural references from the Edo period, they incorporated features like a zen garden situated at an alcove in their bedroom, a platform decked out in tatami mats in the living room and shoji-like screens to delineate the spaces. In the bedroom, mattresses are embedded into a low platform so they appear like futons without sacrificing modern comforts.
To further the aesthetic and the sense of traditional Japan, the home is decorated with the couple’s collection of Japanese antiques and souvenirs, including a Japanese tea set, folding fans, Japanese calligraphy, bonsai plants and noren, which are seen over the entrances into the bathroom and kitchen.
4. Infusing Scandinavian elements in this Canberra 4-room flat by 13th Design Studio
The homeowners of this Canberra home loved the look of a ryokan, but wanted a space that felt more modern to live in. As such, they opted to infuse Scandinavian elements into the home, which is the obvious route to take seeing as both styles cover a lot of similar ground.
Wood elements are featured predominantly. From the foyer, an eye-catching apothecary-style cabinet next to the bomb shelter stows away odds and ends. The living room, set on a slightly raised platform, comes with a timber fluted ceiling panel.
Walls here are similarly clad in wood. Coupled with the bay window seat decked out in cushions, the space evokes a cosy atmosphere that feels similar to being housed inside a ryokan.
The wood theme continues in the rest of the home. Along the walkway, a slice of glass panel showcases the homeowners’ collection of toy figurines, while a door within a door allows their kids to move in and out of the room easily.
Likewise, the kitchen, separated into a wet and dry space, is covered in woodgrain laminates, although a part of the full-height cabinets is decked out in grey laminates in order to visually flush the silver-hued double door refrigerator with the surrounding storage.
5. A minimalist BTO with Japanese sensibilities by Obbio Concept
With three young children and a busy lifestyle, the homeowners sought for a sanctuary that they could feel calm in. So when they got their keys to their new flat at Canberra, they opted for a minimalist style that would also reflect their love for Japanese design and culture.
The home relies heavily on the wood aesthetic, but balanced out with bright, white pockets of spaces in order to create a clean, clutter-free feel. In order to accommodate the needs of this large family, the home was designed with plenty of storage spaces. Most of which are concealed and hidden away in line with the theme.
A ryokan-style fluted wood screen was incorporated at the entrance of the home, setting the tone for how the rest of the space will look, whilst also lending privacy from neighbours that walk by. The shoe cabinet was also designed with a bench for wearing shoes that can be conveniently tucked away into the cabinet so that it doesn’t get in the way.
Nifty space-saving features continue in the rest of the home. The kitchen and study areas are enclosed behind glass doors to reduce the visual bulk. In the bathroom, the vanity cabinet was designed with an angle in order to facilitate movement in and around the bathroom. The bedroom too comes with an angled mirror panel at the sides of the wardrobe so that it takes up less space while helping to expand the room visually.
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