Asian-inspired design elements have been quietly infiltrating some of the swankiest New York dwellings - and with good reason. Actually two good reasons: form and function. The draw of the popular Asian aesthetic is that it cherishes both equally, and the results are often stunningly beautiful motifs that incorporate not only the practical and ergonomic needs of their users, but also their psychological, physiological and spiritual needs as well.
In a hectic city, this holistic approach to design has widespread appeal. After all, we New Yorkers are a savvy lot, expecting everything in our lives to multi-task. If we can demand that our water be infused with vitamins and our cell phones deliver stock quotes, why can't we expect our interior design to improve our moods and cultivate productivity? For discerning residents of luxury co-ops, attractive design alone just doesn't cut it anymore. But even if you don't want to head full-throttle into an Asian-looking theme, working in a few choice elements can greatly enhance the user-friendliness of your space - as well as the value of your property.
Borrowing Eastern aesthetics is hardly a new idea in the West. There have been several historic periods during which Western artists, architects and designers have drawn heavily on Eastern influence. In the mid 1800s, a movement known as Orientalism mined Middle Eastern themes. From the late 1800s to the 1930s, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism, and the Aesthetic movements all found inspiration in Asian art and design, particularly the pared-down Japanese styles that are still fueling Asian-inspired design today.
Along with the current yoga craze, the trend toward Zen-like interior design seems to stem from a craving for calm - a mainstay of Asian design principles. You may have noticed Zen-style stone gardens and indoor fountains springing up in atria and courtyards around Manhattan lately. Jade plants and raked sand may be enjoying a current vogue, but the underlying principles that give Eastern design its powerful effect run much deeper than such palpable emblems.
Even where it isn't necessarily obvious, there's often an undercurrent of Asian influence running through the design world. According to Rebecca Alston of Rebecca Alston, Inc., a Manhattan interior/architectural design firm, "What's really happening these days is a collision of ideas. There's been a wholesale revival of Modernism - which is really about simplicity, combined with renewed appreciation for natural materials, water elements and such. This Eastern influence is a very ethereal, environmental, even sacred approach to design. But it's not really new; many of the most important designers of this century - people like Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius and I.M. Pei - were always aware of it."