Modern Chinese decor
As dynastic furniture comes of age in Europe, local designers suggest
giving it a facelift. Welcome to the People’s Republic of Cool
1. Made in China
When we think about Chinese design, most of us picture the richly lacquered, overly ornate furnishings typical of the late Qing dynasty, or the classic rosewood pieces found in local stores. This stereotype fits (at least in the West) with China’s exotic image but in actuality it’s way past its sell by date.
2. China cool
By giving the language of traditional Chinese design a contemporary twist, local designers are coming up with a whole new aesthetic. The great thing about these updated pieces is that their purity of line and natural sense of harmony enables them to sit comfortably within a contemporary scheme.
3. Modern modifications
The trend is to take classic pieces and modify them to make a bold modern statement. Familiar forms, inspired by the perfect proportions and simple design philosophy of dynastic furniture, are pared back and wrought in all-new materials. Think a Ming-style horseshoe chair reinvented with the addition of chrome armrests, or a chunky hexagonal dining set realised in maple instead of highly patterned ceramic.
4. Focusing on the details
A modern Chinese decor also sees designers exaggerating certain classic motifs in order to translate them into contemporary terms. Thus the Chinese symbol for double happiness might be released from its purely decorative role to form the sculptural base for a coffee table.
5. Factoring in the fun
It’s easy to appreciate modern Chinese style for its own sake but you’ll value it all the more if you are familiar with the original design vocabulary. That way you’ll see the wit as well as the beauty in a room furnished with a Perspex Chinese lantern, a brushed-chrome opium bed or a candy-striped lacquer cabinet. Perfect the scheme and you’ll end up with the ultimate in-house joke.
6. Keeping it functional
Quality is all-important: seek out solid wood pieces with no visible joins or hinges, which have been treated rather than lacquered so that the natural grain shows through. Multifunctionality is also essential: look for userfriendly, space-saving designs. These include tables featuring concealed pull-out drawers and cabinets that open to reveal space for audio-visual equipment and CDs.
7. Built to last
If dynastic pieces can still be enjoyed because they were built to last, there is every reason to think these modern Chinese pieces will stand the test of time too. Updated glass and chrome structures are easily as durable as their counterparts in the original hardwood. Practical cotton, washable chenille and treated suede upholstery provide a hardwearing, comfortable alternative to traditional silk.
8. Toning it down
There’s no need to go overboard with modern Chinese style: too many pieces will ruin the aesthetic. And just as the form of modern furnishings is less ornate than before, colours and patterns for the upholstery and lacquer are less garish. Avoiding classical tones of gold, red and black, designers are experimenting with touches of silver, ochre, plum, grey-blue and lime.
9. Putting paid to memorabilia
It may have appealed to westerners and made David Tang a packet but there was never anything terribly cool about counter evolutionary memorabilia. Some design icons are simply too painful to revive. We’d rather have less Mao and more Double happiness.
The latest revolution is all about reinvention and recycling, and it takes in everyday objects as well as dynastic ones. Deer Brand thermos flasks, Hero fountain pens and Seagull cameras – these iconic symbols of old China are now highly collectible; right up there in the international hierarchy of chic.
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