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Home awakening

Preparing for a foray here last year, Ikea, a global home furnishing giant, did some research on Korean consumers, collecting as many images of their homes as possible.

What it ended up with were hordes of images of almost identical-looking apartment units: white wallpaper, cookie-cutter room and furniture layouts and, above all, the decided lack of decorative items.

Lee Yu-rim, who runs home interior shops in Seoul, calls this the “dark age” of Korean homes.

For decades, furniture was something only for soon-to-be wed couples or new homeowners. With homeownership a lifetime goal of many, practicality and timeless design outweighed personal tastes.

“Even as Koreans lead in fashion and cosmetics, they have remained in the dark on home interior,” said Lee, who is the president of Riviera Maison Korea, a local unit of the Dutch furniture lifestyle brand.

Recently, however, Koreans are undergoing a home decor awakening.

Increasingly wealthier, freer and interested in living, rather than mere surviving, they are fast discovering a whole new world of home styling.

And this new consumer recognition is reshaping the industry, similarly to how the “well-being” trend transformed the local food market about a decade ago.

The much-feared and talked-about arrival of Ikea last year came against this backdrop.

“Ikea has opened Koreans’ eyes to a new level of home decor,” said professor Yoon Sung-ho at Kookmin University.

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