By Carolyn Wong
The signs began popping up. A book on Chinese philosophy displayed on a coffee table. A rice paper lamp sitting on a bedside table. A shirt with a Chinese character on the front.
Then last fall, Asian culture invaded Western home decor as Eastern-inspired housewares and furniture appearing on store shelves and made their into our kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and even patios.
“It started with candles and incense, but really hit in the fall and winter,” says Jeffrey Pethybridge, housewares manager at Urban Outfitters on Yonge Street.
Asian influences can now be seen in lamps and lanterns, candleholders, books, artwork, picture frames, dinnerware and outdoor furniture.
Sharon Skinner of Pier 1 imports says people find the colours of Asian motifs—early taupes, maroons and plums—soothing.
“It also works well with a lot of decor that people already have,” Skinner says. “It’s easy to work with.”
Most people are attracted to the simplicity and crisp, clean modernist quality of Asian design, but such forms have a deeper meaning.
“It’s not just that it looks nice, It’s the whole atmosphere with the lights, the candles, the incense,” Pethybridge says. “It involves all the senses.”
The trend arrived at a time when people are focusing more effort and money on decorating their homes, Skinner says.
People are also paying more attention to their spiritual sides. Since most Asian design has taken on a new holistic significance.
Feng shui (pronounce fung-shway) is an ancient Chinese art and science based on the I-Ching and Taoist philosophies—the yin yang theory, the five element phases and eight trigrams.
Essentially, feng shui involves strategically placing furniture or objects to create balance. The idea is to create harmony with the environment by re-arranging living and working spaces.
Translated from Chinese, feng means “wind” and shui means “water.” Energy is carried by the wind and retained when it hits water.
Feng shui design uses furniture and accessories, such as a wooden chair or an aquarium, to represent the five elements of water, wood metal, earth and fire.
Pethybridge says feng shui book sold at Urban Outfitter so quickly—they make great coffee table books.
Japanese tradition has also influenced Western design, especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Hyypio Design and Furniture, based in Lower Lake, Calif., focuses mostly on the kaidan tansu. Translated from Japanese, kaidan means “stairs” and tansu means “trunk.”
Owners Bob and Tetra Hyypio design stacked trunks resembling a stairway that serve as storage spaces, entertainment units or book shelves.
In Japan, the kaidan tansu is a status symbol allowing one to “rise above” the village.
Petra Hyypio doesn’t think this style will become mainstream. “I see an awareness toward simplicity that travels,” Hyypio says. “The Japanese figured it out and we are inspired by the design.”
Hyypio’s products are expensive—the average price for a kaidan tansu is around $8,000.
If you’re looking to add a bit of the Orient to your decor but your OSAP loan doesn’t allow you to spend that much, stores such as Ikea, Pier 1 Imports, Urban Outfitters and Bowring offer more affordable items.
“People who travel to Asia find that it is very expensive to bring things back,” Skinner says. “Retailers [in Canada] like to have that available to consumers.”
The media help spread the influence of the trend. Pethybridge says magazines often borrow items from Urban Outfitters for photo shoots and most of what they take is inspired by Asian cultures.
“It filters down to the consumers through the media,” Pethybridge says. “And as a trend, it’ll be around for a while.”