Michelle Ogundehin, ELLE Decoration’s Editor-at-large, talks us through the key theme of the homes in this issue o
Editor-atLarge Michelle Ogundehin talks us through the theme of this issue’s homes
Modern Oriental? At first read, that might seem like something of a contradiction. Surely ‘Oriental’ prompts visions of ancient rituals and filigree detail, whereas ‘modern’ is all achingly streamlined, contemporary cool? The idea for a Modern Oriental issue came out of my exploration of Japonisme in the August 2017 Trends issue. There, I wrote of the emergence of a new simplicity and elegance in design that owed a lot to Japan. I believed this was the result of four key ingredients: harnessing the power of nature and natural materials; revelling in finish and texture; paying attention to the smallest details; and approaching design with a respect built upon centuries of ritual, but also with an irreverence that enables constant evolution. It’s a revival of age-old obsessions coupled with a zeitgeist-led twist. And it is precisely this clashing of cultures that we wanted to explore.
However, this was ‘The Big Trend’ that was newly hitting the mainstream, albeit notable for its employ of a certain capriciousness in the design of furniture and home accessories. It was also a feel that was very much led by Japanese techniques and aesthetics, rather than the style of the Far Eastern hemisphere as a whole. What we were interested in for this issue was that which has already seen widespread articulation in interiors. The redux version of ‘East meets West’, if you will – homes that exhibited the marriage of the 21st-century urban home with a touch of the exotic.
It is, personally, a favourite style of mine. I love the union of two aesthetics, especially when it is grounded in such a precise understanding of the fundamentals of design excellence – in short, the importance of palette, presentation and a desire for perfection. And yet, Modern Oriental is a theme that also allows great freedom of interpretation. What you will see over the next 68 pages is a selection of the world’s most beautiful examples of this trend – homes that demonstrate this new, deluxe vision in many different ways. They proffer a masterclass in how to get the look, whether that home is in Sweden, Australia or Japan. For Modern Oriental isn’t about simply sticking an ornately carved piece of lacquerwork into a contemporary home, it is a design language that revels in a subtlety of detail and the careful combination of materials. And while there can be no 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 that harks back to notions of wabi-sabi – the Japanese understanding of the beauty in imperfection – and a finishing, with fittings and furnishings, of that space in such a way as to crystallise this intent.
Materials such as wood abound, connoting as they do an honesty and truth. Walls are generally plain, or artfully rendered in plaster, hand-worked to an exquisite patina. Artworks are carefully considered, entering into an intimate dialogue with the rooms in which they hang; shadows too are considered an artful part of any design. And then there will be that top note of exoticism – the merest evocation of chinoiserie – whether that be a single flowering stem displayed in an earthenware pot or a cluster of shapely vases on a dining table. Nothing is by accident, everything is considered; nothing is excessive, everything is beautiful. As Leonardo da Vinci once said: ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. And so today, we feel, is Modern Oriental.
Modern Oriental isn’t about simply sticking an ornately carved piece of lacquerwork into a contemporary home, it is a design language that revels in the subtlety of detail