Modern Oriental? At first read that might seem like something of a contradiction in terms. Surely ‘Oriental’ prompts visions of ancient rituals and filigree detail, whereas ‘Modern’ is all achingly streamlined, contemporary cool?
When I wrote my Japonisme essay for the August 2017 ‘Trends’ edition of ELLE Decoration, I mentioned the emergence of a new simplicity and elegance that owed a lot to Japan. However, Japonisme was ‘The Big Trend’ that was newly hitting the mainstream. It was also a mood that was very much led by Japanese techniques and aesthetics, rather than the Far Eastern hemisphere as a whole. Whereas what was actively going on in interiors was a sort of redux version of East meets West: homes that combined a 21st Century contemporary urbanity with an opulent finesse and a touch of the exotic. It was, in many ways, a style in between the ‘Big Trends’ of New Modern and Japonisme.
It’s also a personally favourite style. I love the union of two such potentially polar opposite aesthetics, especially when they’re both grounded in such precise understanding of the fundamentals of design. By which I mean, the importance given to both starting palette and finished presentation. Plus, a desire for a sort of perfect balance in the combination of the whole.
And yet, it’s a look that allows for a great freedom of interpretation. Modern Oriental isn’t about just sticking an ornately-carved piece of lacquer work into a modern home. Modern Oriental is a design language that revels in a subtlety of detail and a careful combination of colour and texture. And while there can be no precisely preordained menu of moves that instantly add up to create this look, I believe it can be described as the intention to create a space that has a simplicity and authenticity to it that harks back to notions of Wabi Sabi — the Japanese idea of the beauty in imperfection — with a finishing, via its fittings and furnishings, that absolutely underscores this intent.
Nevertheless, there are some constants, namely, materials such as wood abound; so honest in its natural form. Walls can be plain, artfully rendered in pure plaster, albeit often hand-worked to an exquisite patina; alternatively they are richly finished in damasks and darks. Art works are carefully-considered, entering into an intimate dialogue with the rooms in which they hang. And shadows and reflections that seemingly paint an interior with elaborate brushstrokes of light are considered an intrinsic part of any design. And only then, when the envelope of a room has been cut and coloured to suitably exacting standards, will that all-important top note of exoticism be added. It may be the merest evocation of Chinoiserie from a single flowering stem in an earthenware pot, a cluster of shapely vases on a dining table to a necklace hung just so in a hallway.
The key is that nothing is by accident, everything is considered; nothing is excess, everything is beautiful. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” And today, I feel, that ode goes to Modern Oriental.
Food for thought? Now read my ‘How to add a little Japonisme to your home’ post, here.