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Clarity and Simplicity of Oriental Style | Using materials in Oriental Home Decoration
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From the beginnings of global trade, the West has looked to the Oriental decoration as a fertile source of beautiful objects and exotic materials for Western interior home decoration styles. Occidental architects, artists and designers have constantly used the Oriental home decorating items from the East as a nursery of ideas in house decorating style and construction. This tradition of exchange has intensified as the cultures of south-east Asia have become more immediately accessible to the West through increased travel opportunities and the rapid economic growth of the region.

What constitutes 'Oriental or Asian' style, both traditional oriental styles and contemporary oriental styles, in setting as diverse as the city of Tokyo, the villages of Thailand and apartments in New York, London and Paris. Perhaps it should be emphasized now that there is no single, definitive 'Oriental' style, but rather a wealth of diverse treatments and approaches. The numerous examples illustrated on the pages which follow range form authentic traditional oriental interiors to the exuberant, eclectic blending of Asian arts and Asian artifacts from a variety of sources in recreation of Oriental styles in the home decoration for the West. In our examples of Oriental design and Asian decoration we can discern three broad categories. The first consists of the straightforward recreation of traditional asian homes and gardens.

The second is the late twentieth-century version of the enthusiastic response of many nineteenth-century home decorators and their clients who used the forms, motifs and colour schemes of the Far East to create an ambience of exoticism in Western settings, often basing units thier schemes on secondary sources, such as photographs and illustrations. The results were sometimes bizarre, but no one could deny the strong visual impact of the imported oriental motifs and whole settings. Examples range from the ubiquitous 'sunrise' design found in domestic and civic architecture throughout Europe and America in the nineteen-twenties and thirties to the exteriors of 'Chinese-style' picture palaces and Asian restaurants.

A third category, superfically the least overtly 'Oriental' in style and character, is the result of the search by Modern Movement architects and house and interior designers for solutions to the pressing Western problem of overcrowded cities. In creating simple and flexible domestic environments many architects (most notably, Frank Lloyd Wright) adopted devices form Far Eastern interior design: modules, low level stacking or folding furniture, built-in storage units and curtain walling or oriental screens to create environments which are aesthetically pleasing yet functional and versatile.

As the East becomes closer and more accessible to the average Westerner the more we may expect to see its cultural diversity, decorative forms, vibrant asian colours, its decorating asian arts, asian crafts and artifacts underline the unique appeal of Oriental home decorating style.

The way Asian living in the past

The construction and forms of traditional Oriental domestic buildings are naturally, a response to local and climatic conditions and availability of materials. They are also, in their variations of decorating style, expressions of the deeper preoccupations and aspirations of each culture; in short, they are the physical manifestation of fundamental philosophies, religions and cultural beliefs. The tree under which the Buddha found 'enlightment', for instance, may be seen reflected in the wooden pillar-and-beam construction on a solid base, overhung by substantial eaves, of much oriental building, although this varies according to specific climatic and geographical circumstances.

One dominant characteristic of traditional Oriental housing is the sense of flexibility and of available space in the interior. Rooms are often decorated in unadorned natural materials and are largely unfurnished, allowing the use of the space for a wide variety of everyday activities. The simplicity, even austerity, of taste derived from Buddhism, means that much of family life is conducted on floor mats or cushions, or on the verandah if the climate permits. Furniture is generally kept to a minimum and can be stacked or stored when not in use interiors are often subdivided by sliding doors or walls; in warmer climates, latticework or carved wooden transom panels immediately below ceiling level allow the free circulation of air. In Korean and Japanese settings, notably, translucent hand-made rag or rice paper is pasted across interior windows and partitions, allowing a subtle diffusion of light.

Asian home decorating styles & Western home decorating styles

Interior home decoration in the style of the Asian decoration is fascinating melange of motifs and forms: high tech sophistication sits alongside indigenous imagery and craftmanship. The International Modernism of the apartment blocks of Hong Kong is paired with the opulence of Chinese moulded ceilings or the rigorous simplicity of the Japanese bath-house. Keeping a foot in both camps is a delicate but rewarding balancing act, as in the Paris interiors which joyfully blends objects from Asian and West.

The single most profound difference between Oriental home decor asian art and Western home decor art approches to home decoration lies in the definition of different areas within it; the former is neutral, the latter specific. Westerners grow up with the notion that each room has a clearly stated purpose and function; when one is in use, then the others become dead space, and architects and designers reflect this in urban environments by dividing already restricted space into even tinier units. In the Orient, virtually every room, with the exceptions of kitchen and bathroom, is considered a living room - and dining room. and bedroom. Much Oriental furniture is designed for its adaptability; modern Chinese, Korean or Japanese furniture for city dwellers is lightweight, while sliding doors as room dividers are invaluable in the confined spaces of city apartments.

Although such overall design considerations have been a very important feature of Far Eastern influence on the West, the most dramatic effects in interior deisgn in the Oriental style are undoubtedly those derived form the rich colouring and intricate detailing of many Eastern artifacts. The small scale and exquisite decorative qualities of lacquerwork, textiles and carving make them peculiarly suitable for display in limited spaces. Dominant colours of cinnabar red, black and gold can bring an effect of exotic luxury and richness to any interior. Even the heavier pieces of furniture, often made with the export market in mind, usually have a high display value. The interiors illustrated on the following pages will repay careful analysis of the effects achieved through the combination of colour, light, and objects, from Japanese screens to Thai tables and Burmese lacquerware.

Oriental Furniture and Oriental Furnishings

The fascination of the Oriental home decoration and recurring fashions for objects from Asia make it hardly a matter for surprise that a great deal of furniture and Asian art from south-east Asia can be found in the West. Given the relative lack of large articles in the traditional Oriental interior and decorating, much that has been made for the Western market is in fact based on pieces more commonly found in palaces or Asian temples rather than in domestic settings. Designs, materials and decorative processes, even in contemporary asian art and oriental furniture and furnishings, always reflect traditional asian attitudes and pratices: high standards of asian craftmanship and a genuine respect for raw meterials in Asian countries.

The range of attractive asian furniture and furnishings from the East is rich indeed: lacquerware, Thai silks, finely-made rosewood furniture, with chests, tables and beds for every occasion. Lacquer is considered especially attrative in the West; the process, first discovered in China and then taken up in Korea and Japan. lends a great subtlety and depth of finish to the basic material, usually soft pine wood in the case of furniture, although it can be applied to fabric, bronze, porcelain and basketry. Colours range from cinnabar red, black and yellow to the crimson, vermilion and olive-green of traditional Chinese lacquermakers. Such rich colours may not suit all tastes, but there are plenty of alternative types of furniture, such as woven cane and rattan.

Certain characteristic types of oriental furniture have proved immensely popular in non-Oriental settings. Traditional pieces for storage - cabinets, cupboards, chest and trunks - have brought both fine finish and practically to many a Western interior. Folding screens (Shoji) from the Far East were among the most avidly collected imports during the late nineteenth century and they still make an imposing additiona to interiors with an Orientalist bent. Sleeping Oriental-style offers a variety of options, form the supremely pratical and minimalist futon to the four-poster Chinese marriage bed; these latter were often made of delicately scented woods, then painted or lacquered red. Whatever your taste and purse, auctions and second-hand shops will prove fruitful locations for finding authentic Oriental-style furniture.

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