Soft colors, varied textures induce tranquil, Asian feel

DEAR GAIL: We're redecorating our house and want to bring in an Oriental feel. We like the tranquil feel that Oriental design has but really don't want it so heavy with the reds, blacks or lacquer furniture. Can you suggest any other direction? -- Katrina.

DEAR KATRINA: The heavier look with the reds, blacks and lacquer furniture pieces is a more authentic Far East look, but you can create the same tranquility with other color schemes, patterns, images and textures.

One direction could be to bring in a tropical Bali feel using brighter colors and floral prints. Or, if you want a softer, more relaxed direction, I designed a model a couple of years ago that we called California Asian. It had the relaxed feel of a California casual theme but with Oriental touches.

I started with a softer color palette of dusty coral, bleached sand and kiwi green to invoke a tranquil feel. It's not your typical Oriental color scheme, but it created a relaxed spa feeling, which was what we wanted.

Then, many Asian elements such as a bamboo floor in the dining room, reed Roman shades in the living room and a sisal rug in the family room were added. If incorporated properly, all the textures and familiar design elements will invoke the feeling that you are looking for.

The fabrics used had just a slight suggestion of an Asian theme. Instead of the expected chinoiserie traditional prints, soft tone-on-tone leaf or branch patterns in silk were used. The furniture was a combination of rattan, bamboo and teak instead of a gloss rosewood or painted lacquer.

As you can see from the accompanying picture, it has a softer and lighter feel. Notice the gentle curves with straight lines in the chairs.

One of the art pieces selected was a bamboo open-metal wall panel with tea light holders. The framed images were of jars, urns and pots with simple flowers or orchids.

I didn't use any of the more traditional koi, tiger or Asian flowers, except some brass calligraphy plaques were added in a wall gallery down the hall. So again, you got the Asian touches without using all of the expected images.

I did bring in some recognizable figures in the accessories. I used a pair of large iron cranes in the entry, as you can see in the picture; a more contemporary Buddha in a niche and then sprinkled frogs and lily pads on the smaller tables.

Personally, I have never had a home with a soft color palette or an Asian feel, but I have to say this was my favorite out of the five models I designed. It was where my staff and I took our breaks and ate lunch everyday.Even the sales people and buyers seemed to linger in this house more than in any of the others.

I feel that what made it so different from what you would expect when someone says Asian or Oriental design is that it had a much more updated look and feel but still maintained the tranquility and serenity that you expected.

The key is to keep it simple and light, still adding the expected design elements in each room but in a softer way instead of them being so bold and dramatic.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: