In Asian American Households, Family Influences Every Design Decision


What exactly is the Asian American experience? It’s as complex as it is rooted in the traditions of family. “It’s my mom’s platters of cut fruit and the batches of soup. It’s the ‘Are you comfortable? Do you have enough food?’ that will always be what home means to me,” says AD100 designer Young Huh.

To Huh, who immigrated from South Korea with her parents when she was three, and so many other Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), home is far more than a place to live—it’s a sanctuary that tangibly embodies the foundational role that family plays in Asian culture. These manifestations could take the form of a windowsill blooming with remedial herbs the Western tongue might have difficulty pronouncing, or sharing a bunk bed with the grandma who raised you while your parent worked late. It could be sweltering summers in your parents’ home country, where you inevitably relearn their language through weeks of homemade dishes cooked by many cousins. It could be the eye-watering realization that, while you might not have seen them in a decade or even remember their names, your family would open their door to you in a heartbeat and have a warm meal, a spare mattress, and a set of household rules waiting for you before you’re even settled. It’s the way familial sacrifice and filial obligations inform every detail in the space between your walls.

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Photo: Bomi Jin

In Asian cultures, family rules and values are rooted in collectivism. This is the learned nuance that individuals must respect the status quo around them as a way to prioritize their larger community’s needs before their own. “Unlike Western belief—which is that people should behave consistently true to themselves across all contexts, no matter where you are and who you encounter—Asians emphasize behaving in accordance with their context,” says Qi Wang, a human development professor at Cornell University and author of The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture.

asian american

Photo: Bomi Jin

Wang points out several Asian customs that are a threshold into the home, making it a sacred space for the family. Wang emphasizes that “taking off one’s shoes is not just for hygiene, it also sets a transitional boundary between the outside and inside.” She also observes how having walls or tall fences surrounding the home is common in traditional Asian households for the same reason. “I have Asian American friends who just purchased a beautiful lake house. While Westerners would cherish that view, they built a wall outside their window,” Wang jokes. “In a way, it enforces the family’s expectations within the space and reminds people that their role changes when they enter home—you’re a wife, you’re a mother, you’re a sister, and so forth.” These tangible barriers between the outside and inside place additional emphasis on the importance of fulfilling your duties in your family’s household.

Multigenerational living

asian american

Photo: Bomi Jin

Assigned family roles heavily influence living customs in Asian culture, where individuals are expected to prioritize their responsibilities to their families. Huh, who spent summers back in Korea after immigrating to the States, recalls the disparate living customs she observed in Asia. “We would stay at either grandparents’ house with their kids and in-laws, because grandparents are very involved in the caretaking of their grandchildren. Multigenerational living is the norm,” she says. Huh notes that these expectations around filial obligation, marriage, age hierarchy, and gender roles also perpetuate the deeply entrenched division of labor in traditional Asian households. “On my paternal grandparents’ side, my uncle was the only son, so he was expected to stay at his parents’ home as they aged. His wife—who had moved in with her husband and in-laws—was expected to take care of her husband’s parents.” In contemporary Asian American households, gendered practice is no longer a priority, but taking care of elders remains a central pillar of the household.

Huh, who now lives with her husband and children in New York City, shares that she specifically designed the guest bedroom in her second home to welcome her parents. “It’s on the first floor, right beside the kitchen, so it’s able to accommodate my parents’ needs.”



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