Riding design's Orient expression Home: Eastern motifs are popular once again in Western design.

March 17, 1996|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

The cultures, architecture, art and crafts of the Far East have long piqued Western interest, and furniture, textiles and ceramics of Asian origin have long influenced Western styles.

Since the 18th century, cabinetmakers in England, France, Italy and the United States have interpreted furniture from the Orient, incorporating such elements as bracket feet, pagoda crowns and fretwork.

Chinese Chippendale and glazed chintz fabrics printed with Asian bird-and-flower motifs, in fact, were so embraced by the British that they've been assimilated into English style. Traditional Western decor also incorporated such elements of Eastern style as the distinctive shade of Chinese red; chinoiserie, the highly decorated lacquered furniture characterized by paintings of intricate Eastern landscapes or figures; and Japanese blue-and-white porcelains.

More recently, the Japanese principles of order, simplicity and understatement known as shibui have drawn a following of minimalist designers. Admired for the same reasons as Shaker furnishings spareness and clean lines classic Japanese style seems like a statement of modernity.

But many of those countries' traditional designs have not been fully explored. That fact, along with two current trends in home furnishings, signals a new appreciation for Asian style.

A desire for something different has triggered one trend, a taste for ethnic furnishings and accessories, according to Michelle Lamb, editor of the Trend Curve, an industry newsletter published in Minneapolis twice a year.

"There's also a return to formality," said Ms. Lamb, addressing the second trend. "When we see that, we see an increase in shine, lacquer and chinoiserie."

Formality, however, needn't be translated as shininess or overly dressed-up looks. Milling Road, a furniture company noted for innovation, demonstrated that with the introduction of a handsome collection called Asia last October at the High Point, N.C., furniture market.

The Asia collection, which numbers 20 pieces taken from Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, East Indian and Indonesian examples, explores the more subdued, rustic looks inspired by antiques crafted from pine and teak.

One such design is a striking pine Korean altar chest adapted from an 18th-century piece. The low-slung chest has a framed top with beveled edges and sits on square straight legs ending in stylized hoofed feet. The simplicity and purity of the chest's design and the strength of its scale and proportions add enormous appeal. The chest retails for $2,253.

"One of the reasons Oriental furniture has been collected," said John Black, design director for Milling Road, "is that it's simple and straightforward. Classic forms go with classic forms, from High Georgian traditional to very clean-lined modern pieces. And the warmth of woods brings a sense of comfort

Among Asian collectibles, antique bamboo furniture is highly coveted. Much of the good-quality bamboo was imported from Japan. Today, bamboo and bamboo-style furniture comes from a variety of sources. and many of the designs have been adapted from antiques.

A vintage desk seen by a Pennsylvania House designer in a shop in England, for example, shaped his plan for a half-round desk with drop leaves. Part of the P.S. Collection, the wicker desk, which looks as though it's edged in bamboo, actually is constructed of solid pine and pine veneers. The desk sells for $2,550.

The connection between Far Eastern and English styles also is hinted at in the Voyage collection of fabrics and wall-coverings from Osborne & Little. One pattern, though Eastern in feeling, takes its shape from the designer's view of cut hedges in an English garden.

In muted shades of coral and biscuit, the pattern reads as a geometric, with stylized crosses and squares interlinked. The wallpaper pattern, called Box Parterre, sells for about $84 a roll in that color. A companion fabric also is available.

One of the best examples of chinoiserie is a piece by Baker Furniture that shows how the Italians interpreted the lacquering technique. A reproduction patterned after a magnificent Venetian secretary of the 18th century, the piece is faithfully detailed in maple solids lacquered in red with intricate incising. Its retail price is $19,854.

If you like the look of such highly detailed motifs, you might consider fabric, which can make an impact but less of a dent in your budget. Last spring, Brunschwig & Fils launched a collection of fabrics and wall-coverings that evoke the tradition of ancient Japanese art and culture. Its Tea House cotton print, for example, sells for $36 a yard.

The desire for Eastern motifs has always been addressed in textiles. But the last time there was a significant showing of furniture in this style at the mass-market level was in the '70s, when several furniture companies, such as Century, introduced complete collections. (Century's Chin Hua group still is being produced.)

Today's streamlined cabinets, with their simple proportions and ideal scale, team up with ornamental painted pieces and rich fabrics to broaden the base of Eastern style.

"There's a sense of history that people appreciate," said Mr. Black. "Some pieces that are hundreds of years old look as if they could have been crafted today. That's the real definition of the word 'classic.'


* Baker Furniture, 1661 Monroe Ave. N.W., Grand Rapids, Mich. 49505; (800) 592-2537.

* Brunschwig & Fils, 75 Virginia Road, North White Plains, N.Y. 10603-0905; (914) 684-5800.

* Milling Road Furniture, 329 N. Hamilton St., High Point, N.C. 27260; (910) 885-1800.

* Osborne & Little, 65 Commerce Road, Stamford, Conn. 06902; (203) 359-1500.

* Pennsylvania House, 137 N. 10th St., Lewisburg, Penn. 17837; (717) 523-1285.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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