LIFE&STYLE

[Weekender] Inside Korea’s DIY home decor craze

By Won Ho-jung
  • Published : Mar 20, 2015 - 19:10
  • Updated : Mar 20, 2015 - 19:10
It may come as a surprise how many young people in Korea know their way around a power drill.

One example is Kim Ji-eun, a 33-year-old woman who was carefully drilling a small oval into a rectangular piece of wood at Intro M Wood Shop in Dobong-gu, Seoul.

“I’m making a cellphone dock. The hole is for the charger,” she explained as she flipped the switch to get the drill going again. As she blew the wood shavings off the finished block, she said she had been coming here for about a year.

At workshops like this one, decorators can make their own custom furniture. (Won Ho-jung/The Korea Herald)

At Intro M, like many other workshops that have sprouted up in and around Seoul in the past few years, amateurs can sign up for one-day or weekly classes on woodwork.

At this weekly Saturday class, Kim was working on her cellphone dock alongside Choi Eun-hye, 33, who was painting varnish onto her bookshelf, and Lim Jin-su, 33, who was fastening the pieces of his chalkboard frame into place.

“I actually found this place while looking for a hobby for my father,” Kim said. “Then I got addicted to making my own furniture. There’s something special about customizing the things in your house.”

Kim and her classmates are not alone in their quest to add a more personal touch to their home.

Interest in designing personal living spaces is on the rise in Korea, as more and more homeowners reject sterile cookie-cutter apartments for a more customized aesthetic.

With the economic downturn slashing budgets for redecorating, that means rolling up their sleeves with do-it-yourself projects ― with help from cyberspace.

Online forums devoted to home decor have become thriving communities filled with tips for everything, from choosing the right wrench to relaying the pipes for a bathroom sink.

The most popular community ― Lemon Terrace on Korea’s largest portal Naver ― boasts over 2 million members. One click of the mouse takes decorators to online stores specializing in tools and materials, some of which offer visual step-by-step instructions for basic renovations.

The blogosphere is also rich with carefully recorded personal experiences that first-timers can emulate at home.

Bangsan Market in Jung-gu, Seoul, is a favorite of do-it-yourselfers when looking for deals on wallpaper and flooring.

“Normally, we expect people to choose the product and set a date for our employees to go and paper their walls or put in their flooring. Nowadays, we get customers who are just looking to buy wallpaper at wholesale prices,” said a 50-something store owner surnamed Cho.

According to Cho, most of the people who are looking to do their own home decorating work are newlyweds and single men in their 30s.

“It’s pretty easy to do your own walls,” said a 32-year-old female customer surnamed Kim, who was running her hands over samples of wood flooring in Cho’s store. “You can find the tutorials online, and if you don’t know something you can just post your question and people will answer pretty quickly. The people there are really enthusiastic.”

Once the basic walls and floors are in, the next step is to fill the empty space with the right items. The online consensus on the best place in Seoul to find decorative items without breaking the bank is Goto Mall, the underground shopping mall located at Seoul Express Bus Terminal in Seocho-gu.

The mall is best known for its apparel and accessory shops offering wares at low prices, but it also has a clump of home decor stores tucked into one end of the underground tunnel. Home decor items can also be found on the third floor of the bus terminal building, which doubles as a wholesale market. Here, shoppers can find everything from vintage soda machines to animal-shaped statues to gigantic lamps and clocks.

“More customers these days are coming in with very specific designs in mind. Sometimes they bring in photographs of their furniture, asking for recommendations for their curtains,” said a 38-year-old man working at a store specializing in curtains and bedding.

“Shoppers these days are disappointed when I only show them classic designs that they can find elsewhere,” he said. “They’re all looking for something that’s one-of-a-kind.”

One of those people is Lee Jung-mi, 29, a newlywed who was looking for items to decorate her new home. “I love owls, so I bought a lot of items with an owl motif. I’m a little worried my living room will look like a forest, but if I don’t like it I can just change it. I’ve already figured out how to decorate on a budget,” she said with a chuckle.

By Won Ho-jung (hjwon@heraldcorp.com)