They say that to truly know a person, you have to walk a mile in their shoes. But personally, to learn more about someone I look at their homes. When you think about it, that makes sense—your home is where you are most comfortable, where you can be your most “authentic” self. It’s where you spend long periods of time, and it’s a space that provides you with all the basic necessities to survive. No matter how small or uncomfortable our houses are, we always do our best to make it more “homey,” right?
On a larger scale, looking at the architecture and interior design of a country can teach you so many things about their culture and way of life. Because at the end of the day, culture is the way of life for a specific group of people. Of course most contemporary homes come with the usual kitchen, bedrooms, baths, and living rooms—but the cultural differences and insight comes from the way these essential parts of the home are arranged, executed, and decorated.
The best example I have for this is Japan. I studied Japanese literature in college, and one of my areas of study was the Japanese home and their use of space. Take one of the most easily-recognizable features of a Japanese home: sliding doors or shōji. These are nothing new, and we have sliding doors all over the world. But in Japan, almost all homes and buildings use them. The reason? Japan is a small country and every inch of space matters, so sliding doors are much more practical than swing doors.
We learn that the Japanese are very efficient and good problem-solvers—while other cultures approach small spaces by scaling everything down, Japan finds ways to maximize the space they do have. On top of this, sliding doors have been a major element in Japanese architecture for centuries and the fact that they’re still in use today shows us not only how timeless and practical their culture is, but also how much Japan’s present values its past.
Sweden is another interior design powerhouse with a thing or two to teach us about design and stylish living. Swedish design ranges from minimalist and natural, to cutting-edge and futuristic. But one thing’s for sure: form always meets function to the Swedish.
I think this explanation by Katrín Eyþórsdóttir sums it up well: “the Scandinavian aesthetic, of mass-produced design that is accessible and available to all, with a touch of grace, reminds the user that the product’s creator is human.” Which, when you think about it, sounds a lot like the egalitarian society we hear about in the news today. Sweden is one of the most gender equal countries in the world according to the World Economic Forum and it’s the 3rd most democratic country in the world according to Economist Intelligence Unit.
At home in the Philippines, think about what parts of the home we can’t live without – a large dining table, a functional kitchen, and the biggest television placed in the living room. What does this say about us? It reinforces our culture of family first and love for entertaining guests. “Family dinners” are a regular occasion which call for large dining tables, we’ll always have a host of relatives cooking in our functional kitchen at any given moment, and sitting around the television to watch shows as a family never really went out of style over the years. This is modern-day Filipino culture, and it very much informs the design elements we prioritize in our homes.
Interior design is an art, that’s a fact. Art is an integral part of a country’s culture, that’s another fact. Culture is the way we live, and our homes are the places we live in. So it should really come to no one’s surprise that culture is inextricably tied to the way we design our homes. But that doesn’t make it any less thrilling or enlightening to see our behavior, our history, and our traditions come to life through design.