Asian furniture, decor adds new vitality to the living space

“Be faithful to your own taste because nothing you really like is ever out of style.” Billy Baldwin (1903-1983), American interior designer

Regular readers of Inside Spaces may remember that 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. And now, most designers also are incorporating more and more Asian design into their projects, 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 items into our existing homes, and I’m going to explore that today. It’s so easy.

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 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 China, Mongolia and Tibet.

The market today is filled with Asian antiques, representing old pieces of furniture found in barns and out buildings, or estates. The furniture is cleaned up and often times lacquered to maintain the finish. All of the blemishes remain, and certainly add to the character. Old wedding chests become decorative chests and tables; cabinets that were used for keeping chickens in the house become great storage pieces; and daybeds become coffee tables.

There also are fabulous reproductions that usually cost a little less - and in reality, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

There are several good sources for original Asian furniture in our area, and prices range from several hundred dollars to several thousand. And most import stores sell reproductions. But you have a lot of choices, depending on your space and your budget.

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 larger piece like a buffet or dresser, a coffee table, a sofa table, or a screen – with an Asian-inspired piece. Pieces can be very versatile. I’ve talked about my beloved Asian screen that I have owned for more than 20 years. It’s been in every room in my previous homes, and now it has been repurposed as a fabulous headboard.

Remember what I always say – furniture doesn’t have to match, and adding a wonderful Asian accent will add sophistication and style to any décor.

My personal collection keeps growing but I still have a few must-haves on my list. An Asian wedding bed is at the top of my list. I don’t have the budget or the space for one, but I keep dreaming. 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 pieces to your home.

Carolyn Muse Grant is a founder and past president of the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant/stylist specializing in home staging. Send questions to

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