Zen House

Zen is a way of life — an intensely personal, severely pared-down search for meaning that elevates simplicity to an art form. Zen design embodies this minimalist philosophy, making use of natural materials

Zen is a way of life — an intensely personal, severely pared-down search for meaning that elevates simplicity to an art form. Zen design embodies this minimalist philosophy, making use of natural materials, patterns of light and space, and a near-monastic rejection of clutter. A Zen home is meant to be relaxing, contemplative and visually balanced and appealing. The ideas for structuring a life work just as well for interior design.

Setting the energy free in a space means removing all obstacles. You can’t tear down all your walls, but you can envision your home as a flow of clear water — an open, unrestricted habitat in which rooms dissolve easily into each other, doorways are near-invisible portals, the eye is drawn forward into empty space. Where possible, polish bare wood or slate floors; remove all ornate door frames, ceiling medallions, insistently attention-grabbing drapes and wall art, and patterned wallpaper. Create a cloud to live in and set your imagination free. You will have to strip away more than fancy lintels. You’ll have to lose a serious amount of your stuff.

Zen is a path to enlightenment and a design theory based around light. Rely on daylighting, and artificial light that mimics sunlight and can be dimmed to create ambiance rather than illumination. The colors revealed by the light you invite into your home are most restful and harmonious when they’re as natural as sunlight. Bamboo, stone or stripped plank floors; matte white or soft neutral walls; disappearing, light-reflecting white ceilings; upholstery and curtains of unbleached fibers or natural hues — all of these undemanding colors blend into a relaxing symmetry that underscores an unfussy expanse of space. But nature has its kingfishers and pomegranates, so don’t be afraid to drop a bright note of color into your understated surroundings. A red lacquered table in the entry, a vivid blue floor cushion in the den or a rust-colored pendant over the dining table can energize a room.

You don’t have to be a monk to live like one. Keep enough stuff to run your life and venerate your ancestral tchotchkes — just keep most of it out of sight most of the time. Storage is crucial to living with Zen style in the 21st century. Maybe you can’t do without the flat screen, the sound system, your computer games and the family’s collection of laptops, but they don’t have to be on constant display. Built-in cabinets that disappear into matching walls hold collections of books, media, clothes, kitchenware and sports gear. Try a salvaged wabi-sabi-style cabinet in the mudroom for boots, sneakers, racquets, jackets and shopping bags. Store your china and cookware in floor-to-ceiling laminated kitchen cupboards as white as the walls. Edit your clothes to determine what you actually wear, and then hang them up in the closet.

McMansions are the polar opposite of Zen design, but cramped space doesn’t do much for your peaceful vibe either. Solve a missing-square-footage dilemma by committing your spaces to multitasking. That stretch of blond wood Scandinavian dresser can hold a single carved Buddha and a meditation tea light. Your meditation wedge masquerades as an extra chair cushion. The living room daybed, carved African stools and Shaker chairs push back to create a yoga space. A Murphy bed frees up the guest room for music practice with a full keyboard, wall-hung violins and a djembe that doubles as a sculpture. A braced tower of salvaged apple crates in a sunny corner of the kitchen is a green wall of potted herbs and miniature veggies for simple salads, as well as a focal point in the room.

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