Asian design is as wide ranging as the countries it is inspired by. Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia are the predominate sources of design inspiration. While some designers are purists and use only elements from one culture, most Asian inspired design borrows from more than one country.
Across the spectrum, Asian design traits include natural materials, dark woods, and rich colors. Chinese and Thai styles prefer detailed ornamentation of surfaces and accessories, while Japanese design is known for its minimal, restrained sensibility. Zen and Feng Shui are both spiritual approaches to design with roots in Asia. As Zen is a type of Buddhism, Zen style is identified by its minimal, pure elements. Feng Shui is a Chinese based concept of aesthetics and the influence of colors, layout and materials on different aspects of one’s life. Both Zen and Feng Shui have become popular design styles and philosophies in interior design.
As you can see the interior design ideas used in this piece by the Michener Museum resemble the pure and simple elements of Japanese styles.
Japanese style focuses on function and purity of form and materials. Simple, multi-functional pieces, like futons, natural floor coverings, such as woven tatami mats, combine to create minimalist yet elegant spaces. Furniture often has a low profile, with seating provided by cushions on tatami mats.
Other natural elements used in Japanese style include shoji screens with rice paper, rice paper lanterns or globes, and lacquerware. Color palettes tend to focus on neutrals and earth tones inspired by nature. Japanese style garden design continues the sense of natural minimalism. Japanese have a concept of “the beauty of imperfection” called wabi sabi that can be found throughout Japanese designs and style. A small or big flaw can add individual beauty to an object.
George Nakashima (1905-1990) is a Japanese American designer who brought the Japanese aesthetic to mid-century modern furniture. Above is a Nakashima reading room, now in the Michener Museum in PA. Many elements of Japanese style can be seen in the room, including natural elements, shoji panels and minimal decoration. Another mid-century designer/sculptor, Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), is famous for his rice paper lighting as well as his furniture and sculptures. James Mont (1904-1978) interpreted Asian designs with a modern eye.
Pagoda table by James Mont
Decorating ideas used in Asia can be implemented to rooms which add vibrant colors and principles of Fend Shui.
In contrast to the minimal aesthetic of Japanese style, Chinese style features more rich ornamentation and deeper colors. Red is a popular color in Chinese design. Ornamentation includes traditional motifs such as dragons, pagodas, Fu dogs, phoenixes, flowering branches and chrysanthemums. Carved and decorated furniture, as seen in the traditional Chinese bed above, are common. Richly embroidered tapestry and rugs add additional color and pattern to a Chinese interior. Rooms and homes are organized and arranged according to the principles of Feng Shui.
Chinoiserie is a term coined in 18th century France to describe furniture and fabric designs made in Europe in the Chinese taste. Chinoiserie furniture features lacquer and gilt surfaces. Blue and white Chinese porcelain was copied and reproduced for the European markets.
Neutral colors were used in this room to illustrate Southeast Asian decor
Thai and Southeast Asian styles are influenced by Chinese design but are uniquely their own. Thai style features a lot of ornamentation and gold leaf, bright colors and silks. Indonesian style is similar, but toned down and features darker woods. This hotel in Bali demonstrates a restrained and elegant Southeast Asian interior in a neutral palette. Images 1 / 2 / 3 / 4
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While you’re here, check out our other style guides as well: