Asian accents add style, pizzazz

“It is circumstance and proper measure that give an action its character, and make it either good or bad.” Plutarch (A.D. 40-A.D. 120), Greek historian and biographer, “Life of Agesilaus II,” Parallel Lives

This past fall I had a great adventure: a three-week trip to China. Not only did I sample the culture, the sights, the food and meet wonderful people, but the main purpose of the trip was shopping! I accompanied a friend who was buying, guess what, furniture and accessories for her retail store. For me, the trip was a once in a lifetime experience and, as a furniture junky, I was in absolute heaven. So, over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share some of the adventure with you by showing you the amazing furniture and accessories we uncovered.

Asian design has always been near and dear to me. I’m not sure where it started, but for many years I have included Asian pieces in my home. During the last several years, other designers also are incorporating more and more Asian design, and from the trend reports I see and from going to furniture markets, it’s here to stay.

I get a lot of questions about how to incorporate Asian into our existing homes and I’m going to explore that today.

First, you don’t need to have an entire house full of Asian furniture — unless you just want to. It’s entirely more effective to add a piece here and there. It becomes like the finishing touch for a room.

When I first became aware of Asian furniture, almost everything easily available in the stores was the older, more formal style of furniture with a chinoiserie motif. It has a lacquered finish and paint treatment depicting Chinese life and art. The finish is shiny and a lot of folks just thought it was a little too much for their tastes and tended to shy away from it.

Over the years, we were made more aware of other antique Asian furniture that was just refinished, leaving all of the flaws that age presents. These pieces have now become coveted for their authenticity and charm. Some of the most coveted have hand-painted motifs and come primarily from Mongolia and Tibet.

On our trip we visited several furniture factories that restore old pieces of furniture found in barns and out buildings and that probably haven’t seen the light of day for years. Old wedding chests became decorative chests and tables; cabinets that were used for keeping chickens in the house became great storage pieces; and day beds became coffee tables.

There are several sources for original Asian furniture in our area and prices range from several hundred dollars to several thousand. If you don’t feel the need to have the real thing, most import stores sell reproductions that can be very beautiful and tend to be cheaper than the older pieces.

So, now you like it and you know where to get it. How do you use it in your space?

It’s really so simple. Substitute any piece of furniture you may wish to have in your room — a small chest, a coffee table, a sofa table or a screen — with an Asian-inspired piece. Remember what we always say: Furniture doesn’t have to match. Adding a wonderful Asian accent will add sophistication and style to any décor. This style of furniture is very easy to live with, and I believe that after you have your first piece, you’ll be hooked and find yourself adding more Asian design into your home.

Carolyn Muse Grant is the founding president of the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant/stylist specializing in home staging. Her Inside Spaces column appears weekly in the Home section of the Review-Journal. Send questions to

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