Several years ago, around the time that I decided to go out on my own as a decorator, I was having one of those discussions with my grandmother that everyone has around the holidays. You know the talks. The conversations revolve around work or family or whatever grandpa is complaining about in the other room.
After numbing my ears to it all my Grandmother (Lena) unexpectedly declares “I took decorating classes when I was first married.” Taken by surprise, as I did not know, I urged her to continue and to indulge me with a tidbit from her lessons. She went on to state that “Every room, no matter what, needs a touch of Asian.” I thought, Well thank you, Lena.
Even today, as I ponder this statement, I know that she was right. Now I’ve done my time with the best...and the rest, of the decorating world, that is, but even so, Grandma Lena’s decorating mantra continuously rings true. Nearly every project I’ve worked on from uptown to downtown and from the marshes to the mountains sings with something Asian.
Asian furniture just works. It addresses our need for a hint of the exotic without being tropical or kitschy. It provides that level of sophistication that we as designers want for all of our projects, no matter the style. The pieces simply bring another layer, another look-whatever you will call it-to a room.
Consider this: Can you imagine Billy Baldwin’s work at La Fiorentina, a legendary, classical villa in the south of France, without the punches of blue and white Chinese porcelain in that spectacular living room or the Chinese altar tables completing vignettes in various vestibules and halls that lead to even more glamorous rooms beyond? What would Albemarle House, David Easton’s crowning glory of the 1980’s,be without those near priceless 18th century Chinese export nodding head figures or the plethora of Asian artifacts and porcelain so artfully placed throughout the estate? These magnificent gestures of decorating genius would be lacking something critical to their completeness.
The importance of Asian pieces is that through their exoticism, purity and beauty they become an integral part of our design stories as decorators. These pure, ancient forms honed from necessity and made from materials and colors of the region have permeated the language of interior design and persevered through the shifting tastes of centuries past and the decades of our lifetimes. Basic and even fantastical Asian elements have shaped our ideas of chic and become mainstays for many designers including myself.
But how does this work? Some examples: A pair of antique Ming stools in Elm used as coffee tables in an all white Malibu beach house cuts the hardness of modernism but does not detract from the overall feeling of beach minimal. The same pair, this time in a low country marsh house, gives and unexpected edge to otherwise traditional, regional decor. A stunning Chinese export lacquer tea table turned coffee table in a Park Avenue penthouse screams glamour; while a media room on Red Mountain in Aspen needs the sparkle and shine of a similar table, perhaps in red, to counteract the room’s plush neutrality with a hint of slick.
The combinations and uses of Asian furniture in our everyday environments are endless and exciting. I, for one, can’t imagine my living room, bedroom or even my bathroom for that matter without some nod to the Far East. For me, purity of form and honesty of material and color never go out of fashion. This, I believe, is probably because my grandmother definitively says so.
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