How to add a touch of ancient Asia in your home

How to add a touch of ancient Asia in your home

Special feature

Text: Adibah Isa

Tour the Asian Civilisations Museum and pick up decorating tips from the ancient world of Asia and beyond

There's a thin line between kitsch and cool when it comes to incorporating Asian design elements in your home. How do you add a hint of heritage to a stylish interior ensemble without overdoing it? Consider swapping heavy rosewood furniture and embroidered brocade for minimalist Ming furniture, or look out for touches of mother-of-pearl and lacquer that accent contemporary furnishings.

You can take a cue or two from the neo-Asian, Philippe Starck-designed South Beach Hotel in Singapore's historic civic district, or sample from the Patricia Urquiola-designed rooms of the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona. Another option that's near and dear to us? The Asian Civilisations Museum with their wealth of collections from the Middle East, China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Décor inspirations and mood boards might arise from the museum's collections, which educate on the spread of ancient religions across Asia, the long-lost treasures of a ship wrecked during the Tang dynasty, and objects appreciated by Chinese scholars. We've picked up three nuggets of ancient wisdom — so if you're thinking of redecorating, take a deep dive into your roots for perfect inspirations.

1. Don't be afraid of mixing materials

Even if you're all about the Midas touch, it won't hurt to dip your toes in a bit of silver. Inspired by the gold and silver goods found on that ship laden with Chinese goods bound for the Middle East in 830s, you can incorporate a gold and silver sheen to your furnishings. We're also keen on the mixing of materials seen on the gold and silver Lokeshvara (Lord of the world) figure from 9th-century central Vietnam, as well as the tortoiseshell cabinet from 18th-century India, with its gilded English stand. Central Asia's high society were also fans of gilded silver — we spotted an intricate cup from the 14th-century in the museum's collection.

2. "Asian-inspired" doesn't just mean red — make blue and white your stylish palette

While the auspicious red colour is often associated with Asian culture, consider a blue and white alternative, which has been gaining style points from as early as the 830s. Steeped in the historical records of China and the Middle East, blue-and-white ceramics are a product of exchange between the two cultures. The blue glaze comes from cobalt originally mined only in Iran, while the white ceramic is all-Chinese. This blue-white combo soon travelled to the West and, hey,  blue denim and a white tee has long been a classic, right? And who doesn't like all the variants of French toile. Hang a row of three ceramic blue-and-white plates to add interest to sandblasted or taupe-washed walls.

3. Wood and lacquer continue to be the best of friends

To update wardrobes and cabinets, consider adding oriental screens favoured by Chinese scholars in the 14th and 15th century. A simple wooden bookshelf can be jazzed up with a cracked glaze pattern inspired by porcelain check out theChinese scholar's gallery at the museum for more ideas. While beautiful design is both layered and textured, you don't want to go overboard with all things lacquered (danger — approaching kitsch!). A touch or two on your dresser or counter is enough to make a statement. Same goes for tortoise-shell, silver trimmed secret jewellery boxes, or chests with ivory and ebony inlay.

Visit the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) f
or more Asian-inspired decor tips and be introduced to these Asian masterpieces with a special tour by the curators at [email protected] on 20 April. You can also enjoy a selection of Asian canapés and French wines specially curated by top sommeliers as you wind down with a spectacular view of the sunset at ACM, Singapore's only museum by the river. For tickets and enquiries, call 6332-7798 or email them here: [email protected]