One can attribute the beautiful clean lines of a Japanese residence to its uncluttered look. A Japanese home seems to be quite bare compared with its typical Western counterpart which is usually filled with large items of furniture, gadgets and ornaments.
A Japanese home usually uses natural materials in it finishes with lots of timber and stone adding to the sleek feel. In Japanese interior design less is definitely more and it is not like the West where people feel a need to add items to a room, indeed the goal is to keep distractions to a minimum and allow the beauty of the building and its materials to be admired.
In this article we will focus on the design and construction of shoji screens which when used in a home can impart a very Japanese style to ones decor.
A good quality western made shoji screen is ideally made with a beech frame, the ideal thickness being 1-3/8″ with the kumiko or grid/lattice pattern being in cedar. The main frame should be finished with a clear catalyzed lacquer for ease in cleaning and durability.
Shoji paper is opaque and blocks the view but not the light. The paper used should preferably be Warlon paper which is a Japanese paper with a PVC resin laminated on each side. It is very durable and is also washable.
The most popular paper is white Warlon paper with a small amount of paper fiber but it is also obtainable in amber, bamboo and maple leaf patterns.
Where a more rigid screen is required the better choice would be Warlon Acrylic which has the appearance of Warlon paper but is a rigid sheet 2mm thick. it can be used in place of glass because it is resistant to water and weather.
If you already have windows which you want to give the appearance of shoji paper then you may convert them by using Haru Warlon which has the look of Warlon paper but is in fact a sticky-backed acrylic film for application to glass.
Laminated papers are also available, White Unryu is a very soft-looking paper with long curly paper fibers and Amber Kinwashi is a Japanese paper with short clipped fibers.
These papers get their strength because they are laminated onto both sides of a styrene core. For closet screens, cabinet doors or lighting fixtures single-sided Kinwashi and Unryu papers are also available.
On a more practical note one can easily change the shoji paper when it tears, or change it for a different colour or pattern when desired.
Traditionally shoji screen tracks are made from wood and if given an occasional coat of paste wax and kept clean they should give good service for a long time. Wooden tracks are usually fixed to the ceiling and to the floor.
If you have a wood floor then the bottom track is usually made in wood the same as that used for the flooring and can be inlaid. Modern screens should incorporate a teflon guide to ensure smooth operation.
If you want to use a shoji screen to screen a wardrobe or closet then a metal, usually aluminum, track is preferable with rollers which, because they are captive in the track, cannot jump off or become jammed.
An important design detail is the door pull, the recess where you can put your fingers to open and close the screen. The best ones are ebony and should be inlaid into the shoji frame, never attached to its surface.
If you have young children or pets you might consider a solid lower kick panel in the shoji screen. If you particular screen is wider or taller than normal then this panel can also help stiffen the screen.
In these environmentally friendly days a shoji screen can also keep out the chill from a window in winter and enhance the efficiency of an air conditioner in the summer.
In a humid environment a shoji screen can control moisture in the room by absorbing it on humid days and then discharging it into the atmosphere when dryer conditions prevail.
Of course shoji screens are also made from natural materials from sustainable sources.
Atmosphere and Mystique
If you want to add an oriental flavour to your interior design scheme then adding some shoji screens could be the answer, they are a warm natural feature with geometrically designed lines.
The texture of wood and paper creates an aura of comfort while the geometric grid tightens the space. This contrast gives off an air of mystique and together with softened sun light coming through the atmospheric paper it bathes the room entirely.