Life at ground level

Contact with the base

Ever since I was a child I have enjoyed living "on the ground floor". I loved to play, draw, read on the big cream woollen carpet. To be close to my parents' feet when they watched TV on a weekend afternoon. To study leaning against the wall. To talk to my guests from the floor level. And walk barefoot. At home, slippers or socks don't exist for me, even in winter. I never wondered why that was. Until, expecting a baby, I went to a birthing school, where I heard about the reptile brain, primal instincts and a strange need to be in touch with the earth, which I experienced at a crucial moment. What does this have to do with architecture or interior design? Well ... a lot.

Floor matters

After all, the primary function of interiors is to give us shelter, so this close contact with the 'earth' is an indispensable part of the design experience. Good design not only pleases the eye, but engages all the senses, including the sense of touch. So the floor cannot be taken for granted. For me, it's the floor - what it is covered with, even how it smells - that has always been important. In my family home, I walked on an oak floor that was several decades old and felt like silk. And I remember how frustrated I was that I couldn't afford a wooden floor in my first flat. I made up for it in subsequent ones. But I didn't want to write about floors today, but about living on the floor, which we all associate - inevitably - with Japan.

Flexible space

In Japan, at least in traditional interiors (today's interiors are often horribly cluttered and have little in common with traditional Japanese interiors) everything had to be mobile. Rooms don't have permanently assigned functions, they are given them on an ongoing basis. That's why large, stationary furniture like we know from our European homes won't work here. Equipment wanders around the rooms: futons, which are laid out for sleeping at night, go into large closets during the day. Life - talking, eating, playing games, studying - takes place on tatami mats.

This flexible approach to creating space was picked up by the Europeans, who indeed shortened the legs of their tables at some point in history. And so coffee tables or side tables entered our homes. Although, as a rule, we do not sit at them on the floor (although I recommend it wholeheartedly, e.g. for games), we must admit that they have become part of our lifestyle and it's difficult to imagine a functional interior without them (I have written more about the influence of Japanese aesthetics on European architecture here.

I don't know how much truth is in it, but a lot has also been written about the positive effects of sitting in the seiza position (i.e. with the legs tucked under the bottom, or less formally - with the legs crossed) on our health. It is supposed to facilitate digestion by helping the vagus nerve to function better, maintain healthy joints and prevent hunching by strengthening the back and shoulders. Not to mention the positive impact on children's psycho-physical development (Montessori school).

Low furniture for low interiors (and high ones too!)

"Living on the ground floor" has another advantage, namely it visually increases the height of an interior. If we resign from full-size furniture in favour of a low one, which reach up to 40-50 cm, we gain additional space above our heads. If we additionally replace suspended lighting with spot light or rail lighting (preferably flushing with white ceiling) we optically gain another centimetres. It is worth to follow this direction in interiors height of which does not exceed 2,75-2,80 cm (i.e. current developers' average), spaces under slants, and the ones with varied height (landings) or "heavy" ceiling (beams, decorations). If we additionally have a small space at our disposal, following such a traditional Japanese model seems to be the only right solution.

The same magic also works in high interiors, which also benefit aesthetically from those extra centimetres. Not to mention the pleasure of choosing low furniture. Designers offer such a variety of solutions that it is worth looking for something valuable and original, which will stay with us for generations to come.

So … let's get down to the ground floor!

Crate No. 3 series table by Jasper Morrison. Via A+R.