The topic of eastern influences on western interiors is a very broad subject. Many countries, such as China, Japan, Tibet, etc., have had an influence. Therefore, I have chosen to focus on one country for this article, Japan.
Characteristics of Japanese Interiors
Japanese interiors generally use neutral, natural colors, to provide a simple background. Interiors emphasize architecture, and as a result, provide a sense of geometric order. In addition, natural colors minimize a feeling of clutter, which is also essential to eastern design and its philosophy of simplicity. When a statement is made in a Japanese interior, it is usually through a single strong exclamation of color or a predominant texture.
Eastern art colors are pure. Unlike western art, which mixes color and refines sketches, eastern art is original. This means the initial color and/or brush stroke is the final result. Western art is often complex, whereas eastern art is simple, strong, and graphic.
Black is often considered a “non-color” in western society, yet, it is very important in eastern interiors. The use of black in oriental rooms lends definition and form. For example, black is a color in its own right, when used with white rice paper in a shoji screen.
2. TEXTURE & CONTRAST:
Some Japanese textures and materials that immediately come to mind are cedar, rice paper, maple, bamboo, stone, and woven wicker. One might also think of textured silk, tatami floor mats, and the elaborate needlework of kimonos and obi’s.
Japanese culture seeks to balance opposites in all aspects of life (yin and yang), and interiors are no exception. Interior finishes can be highly opposing and contrasting, and yet achieve balance. Examples are, highly polished floors with heavily textured mats, a lacquered box displayed on top of a rough wooden table, or white pebbles on a polished black granite ledge around a tub.
Western homes typically use an object on the perimeter as a focal point, such as a fireplace, a painting, or an elaborate window treatment. Eastern interiors, on the other hand, focus on a central object, such as a hearth (irori), a garden, an altar, or an elaborate still life composition.
Japanese homes also commonly have display alcoves, called tokonoma. Objects placed in these alcoves generate two types of feelings, either (1) a natural or organic feel, by displaying an odd number of objects together, or (2) an ordered and disciplined environment by using an even quantity. For example, three calligraphy brushes in a cup would be organic, and four pebbles on a dish would be disciplined.
Japanese displays are fluid. In other words, a Japanese alcove may display a scroll one-week, and a set of pots the next. Eastern cultures tend to store and rotate objects. (This is probably for two reasons; (1) limited space, and, (2) visual pollution, outside the home, as the population increases.) Japanese displays are a reflection of the season, celebration, or honored guest. This minimal approach focuses on the quality and craftsmanship.
Instead of rotating objects, westerners tend to “display it all.” (I guess its because they we’re afraid someone whose given us something may come over and we won’t have it out?) A westerner would also tend to add to a display to create a balance, whereas an easterner would create harmony by taking away. To easterners, less is more, order is harmony, and there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
This concludes Part I. Part II of Eastern Influences on Western Interiors: Japanese Décor will focus on the Tea Ceremony, Furnishings, and Antiques or Reproductions.
Catherine McGivern is a professional interior designer who hosts www.aboutdecorating.net. About Decorating is devoted to home decorating information and resources. And, to helping visitors find the best decorating products at economical prices. The site also features a free newsletter, and free 20MB community web sites.