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[Weekender] Cafes, bars, theaters and color: How Korean homes are evolving

For Koreans, the home is evolving from a space of mere comfort into one of aesthetic, emotional value

June 15, 2018 - 15:13 By Rumy Doo
The first home bar run by Park Na-rae until last year was decorated with various knickknacks the comedian had collected over the years for a bargain. On the floor lay a Union Jack-patterned rug, while a rotating disco ball hung from the ceiling. The walls displayed a bright orange painted by Park herself.

In the past, Koreans renting their homes were wary of decorating or making alterations because they did not regard the spaces as their own, Park says. She too has a lease on her current apartment, set to expire in two years.

“Still, that means that for two years, this is a valuable space where I will eat, sleep, grow and become older,” Park writes in her book “Welcome Narae Bar!” published last December. The sentiment reflects a shift in Koreans’ attitude toward their living spaces. If the home used to be a place of mere comfort, it’s now transitioning into an area for activities and aesthetic pleasure. The comedian and her self-decorated, quirky abode have risen as icons of both the “you-only-live-once” single life and lively homemaker here.

“People often say, ‘I’ll decorate my home when I become a home owner.’ But when you actually buy a home, you’re already becoming old. And you may never be able to buy a home in your lifetime in Korea,” Park writes. 

The comedian has now upgraded her home bar game, which now consists of multiple stories inspired by famous global cities. One corner is decorated in the New York Soho-style and serves champagne and handmade beer. Another area has been adorned in the French salon-style, complete with a DJ set. The top floor evokes a Bangkok rooftop bar or a terrace in Guam, Park explains.

“If you only see the same thing in your home while drinking, it can get tiresome and stifling,” she says. 

Comedian Park Na-rae’s home bar comes complete with a neon sign flashing its identity. (MBC)

If Koreans previously ventured to cafes or chic bars to enjoy an artsy ambience, they are now bringing interior design into the home. Sprucing up the interior with more than the bare essentials has become a ubiquitous hobby among Koreans in recent years. More and more people are installing small-scale home cafes, home bars, home theaters and even home galleries inside their residence.

Newlywed Kim Joon-seok makes weekly visits to furniture shops like Ikea and Korea’s Casamia with his wife. Picking out picture frames, bed covers, spoons and forks for their home is a form of investment for a completely satisfying home life, he says.

Next to their living room window, Kim has placed a round marble-top table and two scarlet-cushioned antique chairs in the French cafe-style. The home cafes is equipped with coffee beans from various origins, tea leaves, a hand-drip coffee maker, a small espresso machine and mugs galore. Kim often plays jazz music on the stereo while enjoying brews with his wife.

“Relaxing at home after work is the best time of the day for me,” said Kim, who often takes lessons in hand-drip coffee. “In order to fully enjoy that time, I like to have all the necessary items at my disposal inside my home. It’s a very precious space where I can recharge. That’s why I put so much care and attention into making it as enjoyable as possible.” 

Koreans are increasingly seeking colorful statement pieces for their homes. (WIE EIN KINO)

Park Ji-young, 27, has invested in a beam projector to watch movies at home. She projects films onto a portion of the white wall in her one-bedroom apartment where she lives alone. Decorated in the ecological style, her space is filled with plants, wooden furniture and figurines.

“I go to the movies every weekend anyway, so I didn’t think it was a waste at all to purchase a projector,” said Park. “Watching movies in the comfort of the home, surrounded by everything that I have arranged exactly to my taste, offers a sense of relaxation that is much better than to going to the cinema where there are a lot of people.” 

Koreans are increasingly seeking colorful statement pieces for their homes. (WIE EIN KINO)

Still others choose to amuse their eyes by placing paintings in the home. Lee Won-mi, 35, frequently browses online auction sites for affordable pieces for her home. “I don’t know a lot about art, and I’m not interested in investing astronomical sums into masterpieces,” she said. But every now and then, she will come across a painting by a lesser-known artist that appeals to her eye.

Everyone has their own reasons for displaying artwork in the home, says Jo Min-jeong, former interior magazine journalist and writer of the interior self-help book “Paintings in My Home (unofficial translation).”

Koreans are increasingly seeking colorful statement pieces for their homes. (WIE EIN KINO)

Paintings in the home do not necessarily have to be expensive or well-known pieces, she says. “People are increasingly seeking out new, emerging artists’ work that catch their eye,” said Jo. There’s no correct answer when it comes to decorating the home with artwork, she adds. “If a painting draws you in, if it offers pleasure to the eye and some kind of emotional reaction, that’s everything.”

Koreans are increasingly bringing color into the home, according Ko Jung-hyun, marketing director of furniture and design company WIE EIN KINO. The interior trend for 2018 in particular is to break away from “safe,” neutral colors that have so long been staples in the Korean household, she says.

“We’re seeing a lot of statement pieces that have bold, primary colors or a pop of pastel hue,” she said. “Adding that color to a space can liven it up and bring a sense of freshness to people’s lifestyles.”

By Rumy Doo (