Asia is the world’s largest continent, measuring about 16,000,000 square miles and bounded by Europe and the Pacific, Arctic and Indian oceans. It’s not only vast in size and population but steeped in age old traditions and culture from the Far East, China, Thailand and Malaysia that exerts an enormous influence on all facets of our everyday life.
Designers have long been aware of just how ubiquitous Asian-inspired home décor has been and we’ve even given it a name, “Asiana.” It’s a style that is both exotic and intriguing with the aim of creating a sense of tranquility.
In fact, we’ve only to look to the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Deco and Art Nouveau to see how great its impact has been on designers in the West. And without a doubt, Asian-themed home accessories are on the rise and growing stronger all the time. I know that in my own home, Asiana has played a central role for as far back as I can remember.
A vast number of options exist for those seeking to add an Asian influence to their decorating schemes that are simple and inexpensive. With little work you can easily have that touch of Asian style in your home.
But, there are basic guidelines to be considered in order to achieve the greatest impact.
First and foremost, the key to decorating a home with accessories (and furniture) from Asia is space and balance. Each object must have space surrounding it and the object must harmonize with the room that it graces.
Asian homes are designed to be places of calm and serenity whether through the minimalist interiors and natural hues of the Japanese decorating style or the bright colors and lucky figures of the Chinese. Every item is chosen and placed with the aim of creating a sense of tranquility.
There’s little doubt that Asian-inspired home interiors primarily reference Japanese and Chinese design aesthetics. But, the style is nonetheless grounded in Eastern philosophies, striving to create a balance between the external world and the internal being.
Japanese-style interior design is characterized by beautiful clean, straight lines which is, of course, found in Western contemporary design as well. Here we often see a use of natural colors meant to have a calming effect like the natural tan color of wood, or the brown or green color found naturally in bamboo, or even white paper, as well as the natural yellow of straw. The colors that are suitable for Japanese-style interior design are neutral colors such as black, white, brown and gray.
With Japanese design, there’s a minimalist approach and a restraint from using too many decorative items. Objects from nature, such as smooth stones or water in miniature fountains, are often used as decorative elements along with futons and shoji screens.
Japanese furniture features hard woods and clean lines. Interestingly, until the 19th century, the Japanese didn’t use chairs, as rooms in most homes were small with very low ceilings, which accounts for the fact that so much of the furniture was designed to be accessed from the floor.
To this day it would seem that furniture low to the ground always helps to imitate an exotic style. There’s little doubt that the Japanese style works well in modern design.
Chinese furniture design has been influencing Western home décor for a very long time and is often executed with lacquer finishes or with darker woods.
The Chinese are attracted to much stronger colors than their Japanese counterparts and traditionally use a bold fusion of black, glossy lacquer accented with gold and/or red. The Chinese colors (and those used in many Asian designs) are typically strong and appealing and figurines of mythical creatures found in Chinese interiors seem to only add to the design’s exotic allure.
So how can you best add Far Eastern touches to your own home? Visit any import store, outlet mall or flea market and you can find wares from India, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand. These are often inexpensive reproductions.
Hang framed prints of Asian landscapes. Prints showing men and women in traditional dress look wonderful in a room with an Asian theme and are fabulous when showcased in a clear acrylic frame. Also, objects such as old trays hung on the wall can add great interest.
You can always count on decorative objects with an Asian flair to create a stunning effect. Examples might be small snuff bottles delicately painted with blossoms and items made with cloisonné such as vases or trinket boxes.
Also, large porcelain vases and ginger jars with Oriental designs as well as figurines of animals carved in jade or rosewood or figures of Buddha can be used to add Asian influence to a room. Lacquered boxes can be both decorative and functional, and bamboo plants add life to a room, and even bare branches in an attractive vase can make an inexpensive and striking arrangement.
Finally, you can also add fragrant candles of sandalwood or incense sticks and use fabrics with Asian calligraphy or Chinese silk with a design of delicate flowering branches for throw pillows, curtains and even wall hangings. Decorative wall panels, room dividers, orchids and statues of deities are common elements as are household plants and the inclusion of water (such as a fountain) as well as natural lighting.
It’s plain to see that you can easily infuse your home with Asian flare and create a look that’s both exciting and relaxing. Try to avoid pastels so that you do not lose sight of the exotic look and remember that minimalism is the core virtue of Asian-inspired design. By eliminating clutter and not over using ornaments and furnishings, by remembering that function is equal to form, your design will be enhanced and harmony promoted.
Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He is president of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (World Market Center, Suite A3304) and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.