From the street, Steven and Heather Tuck's house looks like a typical suburban Colonial. Red brick with white aluminum siding, the two-story house sports a plant-filled bay window with a fringed and scalloped pull-down shade.

But behind the mild-mannered, traditional exterior, the Colonial slate has been wiped clean. The outside may be all-American, but inside the mood is strictly Japanese.

It all started with vents. There were so many in the living room that logical furniture placement was impossible. Not one wall was free, in fact, for the couch. After a year of moving the Scandinavian-style furniture they had then around the living room, the couple asked architect Marc Reshefsky to re the heat vents.

They approved Reshefsky's proposal, which was to incorporate the vents in the bases of new furniture, couches and storage cabinets, all of it built in. Having solved the mechanical problem, he persuaded the Tucks to commit to the decor.

Form followed function. Selecting a style for the new pieces was inspired by the couple's favorite possession, an oriental tapestry that occupied the place of honor above the living room mantel. In fact, the tapestry was responsible for the Japanese flavor that now permeates the place. "It was a style they obviously liked," says Reshefsky, whose interior- designer wife, Irma, also provided a few pointers. "Once the furniture was done, the idea was to make the rooms a little more distinctive as well as compatible with their taste."

Now, not unlike a Japanese teahouse, the looks of the remodeled living room are confidently spare, the black and off-white palette serene. The floor is bare, the window unadorned, except for shoji screens. Traditional molding, including the baseboards, has been replaced by slender strips of flat wood trim stained black to match the shoji grid. The built-in laminated furniture is low- slung, sleek with couches upholstered in cotton selected for its resemblance to raw silk.

In the adjacent dining room, each element reiterates the Japanese motif: the lacquered dining table and chairs, as black and shiny as a coromandel screen; the black wood grid applied to glass french doors that open to the back yard. Even the windowpanes in the remodeled kitchen are consistent with the theme -- they have the same proportions as the rectangles in the shoji grid.

Because the french doors let sufficient light into the dining room, Reshefsky felt that the undersized window over the sideboard was expendable. He boarded it up and built his version of a Japanese-style window in its stead -- a light box that he faced with rice paper and a shoji grid. At night, illuminated by fluorescent bulbs, the backlit "window" sheds a gentle light.

At the edge of the bay window in the living room, authentic shojis have been installed in a track that sits upon the sill, right behind the built-in couch. The all-American pull-down shades are close up against the outside window. Two feet apart from each other, the shades and shojis are perfect symbols of the interior and exterior; they are literally a world apart.