It is hard to remember a time when a strong Asian influence has been absent from the aesthetic of Western design - Craftsman joinery, stark minimalism, lacquered finishes, etc. While it might not have been as strong a mid-Century movement as Early American or Danish Modern, there was a time when an overtly-Asian sentiment was expressed in both architecture and interior design. Though Lucy may have thought that Carolyn Appleby's newly-redecorated apartment looked like "a nightmare you would have after eating too much Chinese food," we loved it and wondered, "Does anyone still do Chinese Modern?"
|True, the 1944 Noguchi coffee table still has legs - in terms of its |
longevity and integration into contemporary design schemes.
In the way most Western appropriation of other cultures bastardizes the
source material, "Chinese Modern" is a blanket term for pan-Asian
design themes - including the work of seminal Japanese designers.
|Yes, figural Asian lamps are a fixture in many mid-Century enthusiasts' homes.|
|And we'll concede that a pair of figurines is an imperative for any well-dressed dwelling.|
(Source - currently for sale on Etsy)
But does anyone still do Chinese Modern? Come to think of it, does anyone still say, "Chinese Modern?" Is it the same thing as using that forbidden descriptive, "Oriental?" More specifically, does any vintage-loving, lifestyle-recreating, interior-designing collector go whole hog with a sleek, Chinese Modern interior anymore? To make that decision maybe Chinese Modernism should be briefly examined; Chinese Modern, as a movement, has some tell tale characteristics - minimal furnishings, wall murals, room dividers/screens, an infusion of natural elements, and often the use of orange/red as a dominant color in the design scheme.
|This example from 1953 employs the use of shoji screen-style windows,|
low tea tables, naturalistic murals, and a striking orange in the
upholstery, accent pillows, and art.
|A pagoda-style birdcage, the Asian figure on the table, the lacquered finishes, a wall of|
windows that allows for a bounty of natural light and the integration of the outdoors,
plus the use of a brilliant tangerine hue make for a dynamic interior influenced by
the Chinese Modern movement.
|A later example shows an official's hat chair, ceramic garden stool, mural|
wallpaper, a lacquer-finish lampshade, and a warm color palette including
yellows, oranges, and reds.
There is a house in my neighborhood that I would love to own one day. Built in the 1960's, the black and white structure is one of a few Eastern-inspired, flat-roofed, ranch houses on a long block of homes. A single globe-shaped, hanging lantern lights the way to the entry. The gate, a semi-elaborate affair with an Asian motif wrought in black iron, closes off the the walled courtyard that is home to a decidedly Asian-style landscape design - including a water feature! I have never been inside of the house, but I can only assume that the black and white color story of the exterior carries on past the wide front door and into spacious rooms heavily punctuated by that Imperial orangey-red/coral color, black-lacquered furniture, and plenty of gold accents. At least that's how it would look should I ever be put in charge. While interest in Chinese Modernism may have reached its peak half a century ago, it is interesting to look around and see all that remains of the under-appreciated design philosophy.
|What was purported on Craigslist to be Yma Sumac's television cabinet|
would have gone perfectly in my 60's, Chinese Modern paradise.
The "Peruvian Nightingale" obviously had exotic tastes extending
beyond the jungles and mountain peaks of Incan territory.
|Rob & Laura Petrie's bedroom included the ubiquitous wall|
mural, a hanging lantern and Asian inspired accents.
|Imperial Palace - Las Vegas, NV|
Love it or hate it, the Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino gives more
than a nod to all that is Asian and modern, it gives a full bow.
|Imperial Crest Apartments - El Segundo, CA|
While this building has surely undergone some
drastic Chinese Modern-ectomies over the last several
decades, the original inspiration can be seen in the remaining
|Blue Skies Trailer Village - Rancho Mirage, CA|
My favorite of all the themed trailers at Bing Crosby's mobile home park is the Asian trailer with its black, white, and saturated-red color scheme. Surrounded by a wall of decorative block, Torii gates, statuaries, and bridges, there is no denying the homage to Eastern design - built with modern materials and techniques.
|The theme carries through even to the mailbox!|
We are thoroughly impressed by the level of detail and commitment.
People might not be collecting/decorating in a major way, but after looking around, it is clear that Chinese Modern is a valid design philosophy whose tenets are still practiced today - if not so literally as in the Appleby's apartment. So, what do you think? Have you ever been tempted to take the plunge into full-fledged Chinese Modern? Or do you dabble (what I like to call Chinese Modern Takeout)? Do you have some wall plaques and figurines of which you are particularly proud? However you decorate, we always encourage you to keep it wacky tacky!