Since 1946, from May to August, the world has witnessed an exclusive; star-studded, glamorous, themed, annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City, colloquially known as the Met Ball or the Met Gala. This gala is invite only with an annual guest list of between 650 and 700 people. In 2007, the 700 available tickets started at $6 500 per person. In 2014 however, the individual tickets cost $25 000 for those outside the official guest list, after prices were raised by $10 000 from the prior year to increase the exclusivity of the event.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met, hereafter) is one of the ten largest art museums in the world with seventeen curatorial departments. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works. On display are works of art from classical antiquity and ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters, and an extensive collection of American and modern art. The Met also maintains extensive holdings of African, Asian, oceanic, byzantine and Islamic art. The museum is home to encyclopaedic collections of musical instruments, costumes and accessories, and antique weapons and armour from around the world. Of interest to this platform, are the several notable interior designs which are also permanently installed in the Met’s galleries, ranging from first-century Rome through modern American design.
This year’s exhibition will run from 7th May through to 16th August, under the theme: China; through the looking glass.
The exhibition is set to explore the impact of Chinese aesthetics on the arts and how China has fuelled imagination for centuries.
Because interior design is a branch of architecture, and architecture is a branch of art, this article therefore serves to explore the impact of Chinese aesthetics on interior design and how well it has fuelled imagination for centuries, more so on Japan.
China is the world’s second largest country by land area, and the third or the fourth largest country by total area, but the world’s most populous country. Japan, an archipelago, is a group of islands flanking mainland China, and therefore Japan’s history is believed to stem from China. The first written mention of Japan is in Chinese history texts from the 1st century AD which might explain why the Japanese culture has influences dating as far back as Imperial China.
The Chinese Schools of thought on interior design have been as a consequence of the user’s well-being, which has brought about the appreciation for Feng Shui (pronounced as Fong schway), the world over. Feng shui is believed to bring good health and fortune for people inhabiting it.
Feng means wind and shui means water. In the Chinese culture, wind and water are associated with good health, thus good feng shui means good fortune and bad feng shui means bad luck, or misfortune. Feng shui is an ancient practice. It is one of arranging objects in a room to help allow for and improve the flow of energy called chi. One of the main design principles of Feng shui is to reduce on clutter.
The theories of yin and yang, as well as the 5 feng shui elements are just some of the basic aspects of a feng shui analysis.
These 5 elements of feng shui have objects or colours that represent each of them. To achieve balance or increase the effect of these elements, similar objects or similar colours that represent those elements are placed in the appropriate corner of the room. Below are the 5 elements and the areas they help out in;
- Wood – inspiration
- Fire – productivity
- Earth – balance and stability
- Metal – money and wealth
- Water – communications
As Feng shui is thought to improve an inhabitant’s life altogether, it is extensively used in both homes and offices all over the world. Some of the largest corporations have supported feng shui, with the world renowned, American Businessman and Real Estate mogul, Donald Trump quoted as saying,
“I don’t have to believe in Feng shui. I do it because it makes money.”
The Japanese design style like the Japanese culture has its roots in mainland China and is therefore one of the nations, Chinese aesthetics has greatly impacted and whose imagination has been fuelled by for centuries past. The Japanese design style is one such design style which is based strongly on craftsmanship, beauty and unclutter, just as Feng shui is. The Chinese-influenced, Japanese interior design is a wonderful look for any home regardless of its geographical location on the globe. As it advocates for a simple and uncluttered look, it gives a home a relaxed, calming and ordered feel; all so very healthy for the inhabitant. (Again this is about that very important concept of the user’s wellbeing.)
The design of interiors here is very simple but made with attention to detail and intricacy. This sense of intricacy and simplicity in the Japanese designs is still valued in modern day Japan just as it was back in traditional Japan.
Traditional and modern Japanese interiors both have been flexible in their use, and are thereby designed mostly with natural materials. The Japanese interior design is very efficient in the use of resources. These spaces are used as multifunctional rooms; hence, they can be opened to create more space for an occasion or more private and closed-off by pulling closed paper screens called Shoji.
Shoji are screens that are made of paper attached to thin wooden frames that roll away on a track when they are pushed open. A large portion of Japanese interior walls are often made of these screens that can be pushed open to join two rooms together or closed off, allowing more privacy. Another large importance of the shoji besides privacy and seclusion is that they allow light through.
Allowing light in is an important aspect to Japanese design as these paper translucent walls allow light to be diffused through the space and create light shadows and patterns. Another way to connect rooms in Japan’s interiors is through Sliding panels made of wood and paper, like the shoji screens, or cloth.
The basis of a Japanese interior design scheme is neutral tones and natural colours for every area of your space; be it the flooring, walls, windows, furniture and fittings, or accessories.
If you fancy yourself an interior designer, endeavour to achieve this look by choosing soft, natural colours in muted tones. Don’t choose bright white as your neutral; instead go for warmer, off-whites, and soft beige, brown and grey tones.
If you want to choose an accent colour for a feature wall, furnishings or accessories, opt for a very deep, rich chocolate brown, black or a natural green but smaller turquoise, pink, mauve and red can work well too. Keep the walls very plain and simple – no pattern and definitely free from clutter by a pool of pictures.
For windows, if possible choose circular windows since this is a very effective and authentic Japanese style. They are called the moon windows because of their shape. Curtains should be kept at a minimum, if at all, although shutters are the best look for this style. If you do choose curtains, do go for something plain and neutral.
And when it comes to lighting, choose simple and almost practical, minimalist lighting like Bamboo lampshades – simple spotlights in a modern style – paper lanterns, either plain or decorated by hand painting.
For flooring, hardwood is essential; use bamboo or any other natural flooring, sisal for example. Special floor mats can also be used. These floor mats are very typically Japanese and are known as Tatami mats. Tatami mats are rice straw floor mats often used as the actual floor in Japan’s interiors; although in modern Japan, there usually are only one or two tatami rooms.
Know that space is important in Japanese interior decorating as you undertake the tedious work of arranging furniture. Keep a much uncluttered room with plenty of space and minimal furnishings. Use screens to divide the space up – for example, to partition off a sleeping area, for privacy. The flexibility to move and to change the space is another very important concept in this decorating style. Keep other furniture very low level; a low coffee table, with floor cushions as sitting, is ideal. A futon is another typical Japanese piece of furniture, and can be used for both sitting and sleeping. Choose dark wood furniture for an authentic look- or dark, glossy finishes – like black lacquer or even polished, black granite. For smaller rooms, paler wood furniture can help create that important feeling of space and tranquillity which is so important for Japanese design. Pale furniture also gives much more contemporary look which is very good for modern living and modern design.
As the Japanese design style is based strongly on craftsmanship, accessorising becomes cardinal to pulling off this look, although it would be wise to remember to keep this undertaking very simple and minimalist. It is based on the Japanese idea of wabi – a concept of simplicity in design. This was a reaction against the very ornate and overly decorated decor of the 16th century Chinese influenced, Japan. In the modern Japanese style, only beautiful ornate and very opulent items are included in designs – these beautiful objects and feature pieces should be added sparingly to your Japanese styled spaces. These objects become the focal point of a room in the same way that a fireplace or a special painting might be the focal point of a western styled space.
The objects of display should be flexible too as they are usually displayed seasonally and later stored away. Objects are either displayed, either in groups of 3 or another odd number for a neutral and organic feel. Or in a group of 4 or another even number if you are going for a more ordered or disciplined feel. Suitable objects for display here are little altars, hearths and miniature gardens. Other typical Japanese accessories are beautiful antiques, kimono and other fine embroidery. Japanese tea services, fans or parasols will also serve you well. Don’t forget the natural aspects of Japanese interior decorating in the accessories too. Include typically Japanese plants such as bonsai, bamboo and orchids.
Today, the Japanese style has evolved with architecture and the user is thereby at the centre. It calls for discipline and hence certain rules have to be abided by. This is so as not to bring bad fortune to the inhabitant – a belief shared with feng shui, for example, the number of tatami mats and their layout in a room has to be put into consideration at the design stage so as to avoid this.
To keep simplicity in a space, natural materials are used, as well as to connect with nature. A few potted plants and shrubs are added to bring in nature’s goodness, and to achieve a comforting and serene hub. Wind chimes are also added as both aroma and sound play a critical part in making the room a far more pleasant space.
With the Japanese design style being as eco-friendly as it is, accessories and furnishings are sustainable and organic as much as possible.
Stylish hanging paper lanterns, sculptural lighting installations and a few carefully placed candles go a long way. This determines the focus of the room, and more so with displays of Japanese art; usually a painting or calligraphy.
Since the user is at the centre of this design style, a small water feature in the entrance room, living area or in the backyard is a requirement as the sound of flowing water is considered harmonious. This brings in the element of fluidity and doubles as a stunning sculptural installation that becomes the focal point.
Centuries later, influences of the Chinese aesthetics and their influences can be noted in many design styles the world over – it’s like looking through the glass. One such style is the contemporary design that deals with “the present moment”; the style of this design is that of the day. Contemporary design is known to feature reflective surfaces, clean and sleek lines, innovative graphical patterns in unusual colours, rounded forms, and asymmetrical designs. Not only does the design of today now centre on the inhabitant of that space, but also their well-being is put into consideration. Above all, the environment is partially spared by the use of sustainable materials and sustainable techniques for application. In the end, a space with an impeccable and exclusive appeal is achieved. This line of thought has made the profession of interior design more lucrative than it was before, and an interior designer can therefore now afford to purchase a ridiculously pricey ticket of $25 000 to attend the Met Ball all in the name of a good cause for the advancement of the arts.