Like any single element, Chinese (or Asian) styled home furnishings or accessories can add a healthy dose of flair or personality to a room — kind of a like a working Victrola alongside a state of the art home theatre system. Or vintage chairs in the dining room. And a Chinese cabinet in the modern bathroom. It’s just a bit different and catches the eye in a good way. But run amok it’s a whole different, nightmarish ballgame. At best it’s tacky and at worst you’ll be accused of Orientalism.
“If you have a really modern space, just putting one or two antiques within [it] without going over the top — without all the tchotchke, which a lot of people can do — is the way to go,” explains stylist and designer David Roden. “I have clients who want something, and have nowhere to put it. Sometimes you have to take stuff away.”
Overloading a room can be the kiss of death for most average homes. But with so many choices in Hong Kong — replicas and real antiques, actual Chinese furnishings or Chinese-inflected contemporary pieces — it’s easy to get carried away. Red Hall Furniture deals in both replicas and authentic antiques, and they stress simplicity above all else. “People need to keep in mind that ‘simple’ is the core element for placing Chinese antique furniture in a modern house, since placing too many in a limited space may create a heavy look,” says Red Hall’s Angela Leung. “Incorporating one or two antiques can attract attention for its charisma, so ‘less is more’ [is] a good tip.”
The best approach when looking to include Chinese designs in the home, a modern home in particular, is to treat each item as if it were a piece of art. Another approach is to repurpose an old piece (like the cabinet in the bathroom), especially if it’s a vintage or antique item that’s not in such vintage condition. A pair of accent items, a running motif throughout the house or a single statement piece is ideal: all three is not.
Aside from cost, is there an upside to picking up a knock-off rather than traipsing up and down Hollywood Road looking for the right Qing footstool? If you treat your home like a museum, no, but if you actually live in it yes: care and usage. Antique Chinese furnishing can be so intricately built and finished that maintenance can become a constant task and placement within the home can be restricted. Direct sunlight can be a killer.
So where do you start looking for the right piece? The antique sellers on Hollywood are notoriously hit and miss for authenticity, but they’re not the only game in town. Respected antique dealer Altfield and the new auction house, Gresham’s are good places to begin if you’re in the market for the real deal. If you’re on more of a budget or don’t fancy something quite as intense, Shambala and Rimba Rhyme carry broad selections, and Red Hall can help with both. But in the end, real or “inspired by,” with provenance or a cheap copy, there’s one rule that trumps all others. “I don’t think it has to be a ‘good’ piece,” finishes Roden. “I think you have to like it.”