Admiration for all things eastern is not a new obsession. Over the years, Europe has returned again and again to the style that brings with it all the mystery, artistry and exotica of the Orient to warm and enliven our lives. In the eighteenth century, chinoiserie, as the style was known, was much in demand. With the opening up of the trade routes came a taste for new and unaccustomed delights. Fine china, lacquerwork, gorgeous silks and beautifully worked carpets were the chief benefits for the home. At first a prerogative of the court and the aristocracy, but gradually filtering down the social scale via the merchant class, this style was enthusiastically received, adapted and adopted.
Even though home-grown interior design in Europe was probably at its zenith, so exciting was this new style that it was readily taken on by artisans who reinterpreted their familiar European designs with one eye on the Orient. In some cases this must have been disastrous, but history is kind and all that remains today are the finest examples of East meets West. Classic among these must be the work of Thomas Chippendale. Through his ingenuity he was able to merge two very different idioms, producing the familiar Chinese Chippendale style still so popular today.
Historical references apart, oriental style, as it is adopted in Perth luxury homes, can be roughly broken down into three differing interpretations: South-east Asian Decorative, Oriental Ethnic and Japanese Minimalist.
South-east Asian Decorative style combines brilliant pure colors with gold – shocking blue and iridescent pink being particular favorites. All kinds of imagery, fabulous fabrics, parasols, kites, lanterns, and wood carving of a standard long since diminished in Europe, are featured. The music is of the ‘tinkly’ kind and the smells are those of incense: sweet and alluring.
Ethnic, summons up a much simpler style, without ostentation. Furniture is hand crafter – carved or turned teak, bamboo, rattan and cane being particularly in evidence. Accessories are predominantly of the utensil or ritual variety. Fabrics are dyed the natural way and reflect the colors of the earth and vegetation. The smells are those of the warm earth mixed with exotic spices.
The last grouping, Japanese Minimalism, provides an image of serene peace, clarity and order. Colors are neutral and wood is strongly featured. Every-thing is pared down to its bare essential state. ‘Less is more’, and everything in this interior is justified, all superfluous matter having been jettisoned. The straight lines of the architecture are relieved by the elegant curves of fine china bowls, bamboo leaves and sweeping calligraphy. Embellishments are few and well ordered and accessories vary from large-scale pots and plates to precious small items of ivory and jade.
The key to interpreting any of these variations is to start with a fairly bland, naturalistic background and to build up your theme gradually, layer by layer.
Interior walls frequently tend not to be the solid structures with which we are familiar in the West. More typical are screens. These may be movable and designed with dominant horizontals as in the Japanese tradition or carved into a fretwork of swirling flowers or strong geometries. Painted folding screens are also a feature and black lacquer a favorite finish.
Grass-cloth wall coverings give a luxurious feel to a room and precious panels of hand-painted oriental wallpaper make a stunning statement in a formal dining room. Apart from these examples, walls tend not to feature strongly beyond forming a background for the room’s contents – plain soft-white-painted walls are a safe alternative. Floors tend to be of natural materials: wood, of course, but also terracotta tiles, natural matting (such as jute, sisal or coir) and oriental carpets.
On the whole, oriental rooms tend to be much more sparsely furnished than their counterparts in the West, an economy to be admired as much from a spatial standpoint as a fiscal one. Teak, a wood strongly associated with the East, is used both as a building material and for constructing furniture. Cane, rattan, ebony, bamboo and lacquerwork are also featured. Seating comes in a variety of guises, but mostly it hugs the ground. A traditional Japanese futon bed based on a low slatted frame and with a roll-up mattress is a useful item that can also serve for seating during the day. Wooden shutters are a typical window treatment and mosquito nets a suitable bed or window dressing. Silk, as a furnishing and fashion material is closely associated with the Orient, and toile de jouy, with its depiction of daily life, an excellent material for summoning up eastern images. Fine embroidery is executed widely and batik a specialty of southern Asia.
Lighting And Accessories
The most evocative light fitting is probably the lantern. It is seen throughout the East in various guises and can be made of any number of materials, including paper. Particularly attractive are stone ‘temples’ which can enclose candles to light a garden at night. Few accessories are used, and these are generally hand-crafted and delicate. Precious stones and ivory are much in evidence.