Cultural cross-influences apparent in design world

DESIGN LINE

July 04, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer

As the world gets steadily smaller, cultural cross-influences grow ever greater in the field of design. In fact, it's fair to say that most U.S. interior design today is visibly influenced by traditions other than our own.

While the rise of globalism has to be seen as a positive development, since it can lead to better understanding among peoples, there are some aesthetic purists who lament all this mixing and mingling out of fear that it will lead to the loss of distinctive ethnic styles. But few cultures have ever remained completely isolated from others. Indigenous designs have long been affected by faraway forces, and they did not die off as a result.

Western influences have been apparent in Japanese interiors for many decades -- and vice-versa. It was in the 19th century that clipper ships began bringing Japan's lacquer, porcelains and silks to our shores. And as can be seen today in the wonderful rooms of the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, Japanese fabrics and accessories were used to decorate many of the grand old homes along the Eastern seaboard.

Design elements from Europe and the United States have been no less popular in Japan, and some apartments in Tokyo and other large cities are now thoroughly Westernized in their appearance. On the whole, however, modern Japanese homes have retained the culture's characteristic simplicity of line and color, while adding a few design principles imported from the West.

The photo offers an example of how Western-style furnishings and the latest in lighting technology can be introduced into what is still clearly a Japanese minimalist interior. This bedroom of fashion designer Issey Miyake is featured in Dinah Hall's book, "Ethnic Interiors." Here, the traditional futon, which would be placed upon the tatami, or straw floor matting, has been replaced by an elevated bed. Granted, this is not your typical four-poster. But the standard Western elements of platform, headboard, mattress and pillows are all present.

If the case of Japan is representative, the guardians of authentic ethnic design have little to fear. Japanese art, architecture and interior design have been influenced by the West for a century now without losing their soul. And no one would argue that U.S. or European visual traditions are in danger of being destroyed as a result of the equally powerful impact of Japanese ideas.

In my opinion, the styles of Japan and North America have combined to produce an exceptionally attractive hybrid, which may eventually be seen as one of the 20th century's greatest contributions to the history of design.

+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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