Dying plants. Ikea box furniture. Too many shades of jersey fabric. After years of living like a stereotypical bachelor, I’m second-guessing my decor—and dating—choices, all because of Terrace House’s hot Asians and their out-of-a-Muji-catalog home.
Terrace House, a Japanese reality TV show co-produced by Netflix, films the lives of six young adults sharing a home whose actions and choices are cheered and judged by a studio-based panel of outsiders. Each season is hosted in a different city. The show follows a similar format to MTV’s Real World, with more of an emphasis on the cast members’ dating lives.
However, you won’t find the classic Real World early-20s broke-and-experimental look on Terrace House. The set designer of the upcoming Tokyo 2019-2020 season, Shunsuke Okutani, used “European apartments” as the main source of inspiration and explained that the home has “subdued design.”
The first season of the show that I watched was the 2016 Aloha State season in Honolulu, Hawaii, the first edition of Terrace House outside of Japan. After years of watching white people in McMansions in ABC’s Bachelor franchise and ITV’s Love Island, it felt meta to see Asians and Asian Americans who looked like me in a place that actually seemed more like home than a movie set.
As a Gen Z-cusping millennial who mostly follows hot Asian people and is constantly saving interior design photos on Instagram, Terrace House is like what might happen if my aesthetic interests came to life and started interacting.
While the day-to-day action of Terrace House feels like a long vlog, its setting often seems unreal. While I may never have the square footage in my life to create an exact replica of a Terrace House home, the design team for the latest season, which hits Netflix this week, provided some insight into how they designed a house for a reality TV show that still seems like home.
Taking down walls
In HGTV-addicted America, we’re all obsessed with open floorplans, and it’s no different in the world of Terrace House.
“We took out the kitchen and dining room walls to create an expansive single floor space,” Okutani told Curbed via email. “This allows for a smooth flow of movement across the area.” This floorplan seems to be a consistent feature in the houses of all three Netflix seasons.
To get more airtime—though this reasoning is never explicitly stated on the show—the castmates plan and execute long, thought-out dates. They often prep for or host these dates in the open areas of the house.
Frequently, the dates have hopeful scenes of one member cooking meals for their potential love interest. Prior to one memorable date in Tokyo during the Boys & Girls in the City season, entertainer Misaki Tamori works with fellow housemate Natsumi Saito to get Misaki’s love interest, model Hikaru Ota, out of the house for a precious 90 minutes. As soon as they leave, Misaki begins to make a hamburger steak while frantically scrolling through a recipe on her phone.
When Natsumi finally returns with Hikaru, Misaki surprises them with the meal and bursts into tears of relief as soon as Hikaru says he likes it. Quietly uplifting music plays in the background while Hikaru expresses his gratitude for the meal and Misaki fills him in on the girls’ plan to get him out of the house so that she could cook a meal for him.
Keeping it all monochrome
While every Terrace House house has its own look, the common principle of design is monochrome interiors with pops of color and texture.
The 2015 Boys & Girls in the City house is largely defined by shades of gray, with varying accents depending on each room. The following “overseas” Aloha State season is bright white with blue and gray accents.
And the most recent season, Opening New Doors, in Karuizawa, Japan, leans heavily into wood tones, with a lot of stone accents. Though the home itself is in Japan, the log cabin-style home is by far the most Western of the franchise’s houses thus far.
Its all-black exterior also sets it apart from the other homes, which are lighter in color. The edgy color has become trendy in recent years, but the first black homes actually originated in Japan in a process that “involved charring wood to leave a carbonized layer on one side of the lumber, rendering the wood pest-, fire-, and weather-resistant.”.
In the upcoming Tokyo 2019-2020 season, Okutani told Curbed he “used shades of white to give the large table [in the communal space] a more subdued design.”
American media likes to play up the show’s tame and calm image, and in some ways, the monochrome color schemes of the Terrace House homes emphasize this quality. (The American edit of the show also underlines its placid vibe by using calmer music than the Japanese version.) While the housemates have their dramatic moments, their sober problem-solving stands in contrast with the alcohol-fueled decision-making of many other reality-show cast members.
Awareness of others
In every season, there’s some sort of interior space overlooking the outdoor space, whether it’s an upstairs balcony or a soaking tub with a huge window onto the yard. The latest season brings it up a notch by adding that element to the interior of the home.
“As for the living room, we wanted to create a space where you can sense the presence of other people,” Okutani said about the Tokyo 2019-2020 edition. “So we accentuated the stairwell and unique stair design and raised the sight lines by elevating the floor level.”
In an era when “coliving” projects emphasize people living independently together, it’s refreshing to see the opposite encouraged in the show, not only in the design of the houses, but also in the way the housemates clean, cook, and decorate the home for holidays and birthdays together.
In Opening New Doors, musician Masao Wada spends almost his entire time on the series chasing after model Risako Tanigawa. After Risako finds herself battling with the girls in the home for weeks, Risako and Masao decorate the giant Christmas tree in the backyard while she thanks him for supporting her through the drama. She gives him a cute nickname, Machao, while joking about how silly her name and his new nickname sound together. They top the tree with a star and the scene fades to a dreamy nighttime view of the now-decorated tree lighting up the whole yard.
The fourth season of Terrace House, titled Tokyo 2019-2020, premieres on Netflix in the U.S. on September 10.