Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chinese Modern: Eat In or Takeout?

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.
(Source)

Yes, figural Asian lamps are a fixture in many mid-Century enthusiasts' homes.
(Source)

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.
(Source)

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.
(Source)

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.
(Source)

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.
(Source)

Imperial Palace - Las Vegas, NV
(Source)

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
architectural elements.

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.

1960's Asian Ranch house - Fullerton, CA

A pagoda birdhouse (?), lawn ornaments, expertly-manicured greenery, and the magnificent coral-colored front door and screened sidelights make this house an exception to the prevailing perception of Orange County, CA as mundane, colorless, and devoid of personality or interest. 

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!


Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

26 comments:

  1. Never heard the term "Chinese Modern" before but I can tell you Eric has these tendencies. I have to veto him on occasion. He really wants a Koi pond in our front yard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Koi ponds can be tricky; my friends had one and they all got eaten by birds and raccoons - not always worth the huge investment.

      Delete
  2. We're a takeout bunch. :) Our living room has all of my mid-mod Asian items - the kitschier, the better!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unless I lived in a Chinese Modern house, I would probably opt for takeout too!

      Delete
  3. Josieposie: Are you married? According to the Chinese science of feng shui, having a body of water (like a pond) to one side of the front door of one's house (I think it's the right side) accelerates the "wandering eye" tendencies of the man of the house and makes him likely to be unfaithful. So you might want to take that into consideration!

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a lovely post! I have always love chineese design kitch or modern.
    I had the chance to travel in China some years ago and could see the difference between our oriental inspired design and true chineese one... same for the food!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My Chinese friends laugh at our concept of Chinese food (but I think they secretly like it too).

      Delete
  5. Excellent article - I'm forwarding this to my architecture friends... Love this concept - although I never would have put a name on it. I'm continually drawn to Asian decor - but I've never considered it as an entire theme. Love the Laura Petrie example - and Vegas, of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Uh oh, don't send it to anyone too official. I already know that I'm, kind of a windbag who makes things up...I'm not sure I want confirmation from people with real knowledge and training! Hahahaha!!!

      Delete
    2. All of our friends are windbags :-)... We make it up as we go along. Just kidding...I think you're one of the smartest 50s bloggers out there! Milt (my husband) has an issue of Popular Mechanics that shows Bing Crosby's trailer park and has just a wonderful Oriental modern themed trailer. We wanted to buy a trailer and copy it.

      Delete
  6. You and I would truly get along well! As soon as I read the title I thought "he's going to reference the Applebys apartment on Lucy..." *two lines later* haha! There are a few house in our towns "country club" area that have heavy Chinese and Asian influence. Should it ever become my cup of tea, I would totally call it "Chinese Modern" bad food or not! I've always found it fascinating how taken the mid-late 50's was with Chinese culture, especially with the not so distant shadow of WWII the decade before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That episode is what prompted this post. You never hear too much about Chinese Modern, but clearly Asian-themes played a strong role in Western design. When thumbing through my old magazines, there are plenty of instances of Chinese Modern interiors or at least Asian influence. It isn't my absolute favorite design style but if I had an mid-Century Asian house, you'd better believe that I would go full Chinese Modern.

      Delete
  7. My mom thinks so. Two rooms in my family home are very very Chinese modern...and one of them is mauve

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh my, that teal-infused room with the orange furniture... WANT!

    I never thought about it particularly as a style of design, probably because I just thought it was another popular theme, like having a Western-styled room. But there was a lot of it, you're right! I think the only thing we've dabble in with takeout is two sets of Chinese figural bookends for our bed side tables. I fell in love with one set and then it must have been meant to be, as within a month I found a matching set! You're inspiring me to get them out of storage. (We didn't unpack them when we moved 10 months ago, saving decorating the bedroom until we painted... we only NOW have paint samples up on the wall and have decided on a color! Sheesh.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know that I love seeing what you guys have done with the new homestead! I can't wait to see more! Getting things out of storage is like Christmas - unwrapping cool stuff and finding things that you forgot you had!

      Delete
  9. I don't think I ever heard of Chinese Modern. But the Asian Influence, yes. My mum didn't go for it, so we never had anything along those lines when growing up. My grandmother DID paint an old chest "Chinese Red" with black knobs back in the early 60's! It is interesting, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In all honesty, I'm not sure how prevalent the term was; I really did steal it from "I Love Lucy." It was definitely a strong influence in design - at least for editorial spreads in home magazines! I love that you grandmother took the bold leap and painted furniture "Chinese Red" - so cool!

      Delete
  10. Your description of Orange County as "mundane, colorless, and devoid of personality or interest" made me giggle this morning. While not entirely true, as we both know, it's true enough! I love the front of that home in Blue Skies Trailer Village--so much class.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahahaha!!! I'll allow it for most of South Orange County, but the rest of the OC is pretty funny! Isn't that Asian trailer the most?!?!?!

      Delete
  11. This week, I saw I Love Lucy for the first time in about a year; it was the one where they can't afford to fill the Connecticut house with Early American, and Lucy momentarily feigns interest in "Chinese Modern."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is so much great material in the incidental dialogue of "I Love Lucy." It's my personal gold mine!!!

      Delete
  12. That was unquestionably Yma Sumac's television, bought in Japan in 1963.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Damon!!! I know that you are the final word on these matters. I didn't have the original posting just the photos a friend had sent me because they knew I would be interested. I really hope the TV/cabinet went to a good home. I was fortunate enough to get one of Ms. Sumac's dresses from you and it is now a cherished part of my collection. Thanks again!!!

      Delete
  13. I'm in the process of decorating the downstairs family room of my 1956 mid-century modern in Chinese Modern. It was a somewhat sort-lived style, in part due to this episode of I Love Lucy entitled, "Lucy Tell the Truth". She bets that she can tell the truth for 24 hours, forgetting that she and Ethel have their weekly bridge game with Carolyn Applebee and Marion Strong. Lucy tells Carolyn what she thinks of her new Chinese modern furniture, "It looks like a bad dream you'd have after eating too much Chinese food."
    http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi3452151577?ref_=tt_pv_vi_1

    ReplyDelete
  14. I forgot to mention that the episode debuted on November 9, 1953.

    ReplyDelete