Embrace the Void: Applying the Japanese Concept of Ma to Interior Design

Embrace the Void: Applying the Japanese Concept of “Ma” to Interior Design
Empty spaces can also say so much, if you allow them to breathe. Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

It’s often said that strength can be found in numbers, but in some cases, the opposite can also hold true. It’s also possible to find power in smaller quantities – and in some cases, you can even find it in nothingness. This is where the Japanese concept of ma comes in.

Put simply, ma can be defined as the space that exists in the in-between, or the silence that comes in between moments. It is less about the structure or objects inside a room, and more about the people or moments that can be found within the silence. As Japanese lifestyle website Wawaza puts it, ma is the “emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled.”

It is a concept that permeates all of Japanese culture and habits. Find it in the deliberate pause taken during a bow, so as to lend more weight and feeling to the action. Hear it in all the little pauses in conversation, so as to convey greater understanding of the topic being spoken about. Feel it in all the necessary moments of silence one must regularly take to detox, unwind, and take stock of the world. Indeed, ma is a unique part of the Japanese way of life, and it can also be considered a key trait of the nation’s trademark minimalist lifestyle.

Embrace the Void: Applying the Japanese Concept of “Ma” to Interior Design
Ma can also be observed in Japan’s traditional dishes, which are usually served one course at a time to allow customers to fully appreciate their meal. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

It is also a concept that can be applied at home, no matter the location of the house itself. When it comes to architecture, the ma that exists here describes the space between the interior’s structural posts. The space here is deliberately placed, so as to represent an “energy filled with possibilities.” 

Now that we are living in hectic times, it has become more essential than ever to have a safe, tranquil space to return to at the end of every day. Today, fast-paced movement has become the norm and it’s something that has also grown to define the modern lifestyle we’ve all come to adapt. With interior design, achieving ma is also possible, as long as you’re able to apply its core principles and philosophies.

Movement is Key

Embrace the Void: Applying the Japanese Concept of “Ma” to Interior Design
You can maximize space by freeing it up with creative use of furniture. Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

To understand ma is to understand that it does not entirely mean to describe a completely empty space. While it does refer to the void or space that exists in the in-between, ma is a lot more than what it appears to be. As described earlier, ma can define the possibilities that lie within, as well as all the thoughts that sometimes go unsaid in daily life. Moreover, ma serves the dual purpose of being both functional and transitionary, where no space is completely wasted, and can, instead, serve other purposes.

In interior design, ma can be seen and applied through multi-functional furniture options, like the sliding door or shoji, and in movable pieces, like the tatami mat. With choices like these, it becomes possible to maximize a room, even if you don’t plan to fill it up with items that could cause clutter. You can also come up with creative storage options for your things, so that you would still be able to free up space for comfort and design purposes.


You can also give your home the zen upgrade it needs with the philosophy of another uniquely-Japanese concept: the bonsai.

Relax your Mind with Ma

Embrace the Void: Applying the Japanese Concept of “Ma” to Interior Design
Maximize décor inspired by nature to enhance the feeling of ma at home. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

With ma, anything goes, especially since the space that defines the concept can make room for all sorts of things – no matter how different or dissimilar they are from one another – to co-exist. This is why it is important to use ma to create moments for pause and reflection. When multiple things happen all at once within a single instant, it is essential to create chances to afford some clarity to these contrasting ideas. Thus, designing with ma in mind “is about creating moments of awareness and quiet.” 

You can deliberately create these moments of calm at home by freeing up space without any distraction or clutter. You can create opportunities for meditation with these free spaces and you can heighten the experience further by making it a technology-free zone. Allow access to an outdoor view as well, if possible. Get as much sunlight indoors as possible. Otherwise, you can choose to bring the scenery inside with plants and other nature-inspired décor.

Don't Be Afraid to Live in the Now

Embrace the Void: Applying the Japanese Concept of “Ma” to Interior Design
As ma encourages one to live in the present, you can use creative centerpieces to drive this point home. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

By deliberately creating moments of pause, ma encourages one to live in the present moment. With these pauses and instances of silence, the gravity or weight behind an action will become much greater. These short minutes of calm allow you to take in the moment as it is, and to absorb all the feelings or emotions that come with it.

This aspect of ma can manifest at home through strategic lay-outs and re-designs of specific parts of the space. You can use compelling art pieces or eye-catching centerpieces to grab attention. Make use of colors and creative designs. You can also consider using personal items as part of the design, so that your style can still shine through at home. To live in the current moment to highlight key parts of your present, you can allow some things to stand out. Not only will these items successfully gain the attention of visitors, they will also allow you to reflect on important moments with the due diligence they deserve.

Embrace the Void: Applying the Japanese Concept of “Ma” to Interior Design
Allow yourself to get those choice moments of calm by following the principles set by ma and empty space. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

For a minimalist home inspired by the philosophy of ma and other concepts unique to the Japanese, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

We are Tokyo Grand Renovation (TGR), a design and build specialist when it comes to crafting luxury and functionality in one. Inspired by Japanese philosophy and style, TGR’s headquarters is at 9110 La Campana St. cor. Trabajo St., Brgy. Olympia, Makati City, 1207.   

For inquiries, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 832 16 76, or send an e-mail at  info@tgr.com.ph.

TGRはマカティの高級インテリアデザイン、リノベーション、会社です。TGRは 住宅および商業 スペースの為のデザインと建築を提供 し ております。お問い合わせは 、02832 1676 にお電話いただくか、 電子メール info@tgr.com.ph へ送信 お願いします。


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