Differences in Korean and American Home Design Posted by on Sep 9, 2020 in Culture, Korean Culture, Vocabulary

Because I travel often, I have stayed in many different places in equally many different countries. When I stay in different short term rentals, I like to discover just how different things are from my childhood home in Korea. 

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Living in an apartment is very common in Korea since 인구밀도 (in-goo-mil-doh: population density) is high, particularly in Seoul. I heard that the Korean government has plans to redistribute the dense population in Seoul to other adjacent cities.


I was somewhat hesitant to write about housing culture in Korea because I didn’t want to overgeneralize things, but there are distinctive characteristics that I can’t ignore. Today, I can share some of my personal discoveries of Korean housing culture.


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1. Incandescent light (백열등) vs. Fluorescent light (형광등)

One of the most distinctive settings in most Korean homes that I immediately noticed was that they use incandescent lights indoors instead of fluorescent light settings. I don’t know why most Korean home settings utilize incandescent lights. Although most bathroom lights are fluorescent in my experience.


2. Your bathroom floor will get wet while you take a shower.

In most cases, I haven’t seen shower curtains in Korean home settings yet. In my experiences, it was common to see a shower stall with glass doors rather than shower curtains. 변기 (byun-gi: a toilet) and a vanity or a sink will get wet because there are no shower curtains. Another contributing factor of wetting 화장실 (hwa-jang-sil: bathroom) 바닥 (bah-dak: a floor) is a hand-held shower. A hand-held shower is prevalent in most Korean homes. In fact, you would hardly see only a wall-mounted shower option in Korean homes. I guess it depends on your style, but I like to hold a hand-held shower while washing my hair. It inevitably splashes water everywhere. I’ve found that many Europe countries have this system as well. Don’t you worry, just get a pair of shower shoes for when you step out of the shower.


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3. Furniture arrangement is different. 

Maybe it’s just me, but I found that 가구 (gah-goo: furniture) 배치 (bae-chi: an arrangement) in Korean homes are very different from the states. Most 침대 (chim-dae: a bed) in Korean homes are set at the corner of rooms, particularly near 창문 (chang-moon:windows). Even sofas are set at the corner of the wall in the living rooms.

That means one side of the bed or couch is blocked against the wall. On the other hand, beds in all American homes that I have ever been to are set differently. The head of bed frame is closed up against the wall and both sides of the bed are open. I thought it was a different style. 


4. Shoes or No Shoes?

I visit many different homes for work in the states. Surprisingly, some American families prefer shoes-off inside the home. In Korea, there’s no doubt. Shoes need to be off. (Pay attention when choosing your socks in the mornings unless you don’t mind a hole on your socks.) There is an exclusive section called 신발장 (sin-bal-jang: shoerack) in most Korean homes,  to encourage you to remove your shoes before entering.


Image by Pixabay


5. Apartment Complex System vs. Individual House

Korea is a small country with high population density. You will see many 고층아파트 (goh-cheung-ah-pah-teu: high-rise apartment) everywhere in Korea. Koreans used to prefer 전망 좋은 (jeon-mang-joh-eun: with a nice view) high-rise apartments. I understand that more people prefer other housing options these days, such as 전원주택 (jeon-won-joo-taek: country house) with a garden or garage out of a desire to have more personal space. 

There are unique cultures that only an apartment system can create, since so many people live in the same building. You often hear 공지 (gong-ji: an announcement, a notice) broadcast through speakers. Announcements are usually short, concerning subjects like a particular recycling day, or farmers market days, etc.,. When I grew up in an apartment, it was common for neighbors to regularly gather once in a month at someone’s home in order to hold a 반상회 (bahn-sang-hwoe: a neighborhood meeting). They usually discussed issues in the neighborhood, but I remember it was a good chance to meet new neighbors.


I hope my findings about Korean homes interest you. Do you have things that you have noticed when you stay at Korean homes? If you do, please let us know.


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About the Author: FlyHighOyster

Hi everyone, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. HJ