Design Direction: Asian design draws from cultural periods
Inspirational Design Ideas” (Tuttle, $15.95), the photographer-author explores ways contemporary Chinese design is combining tradition with modern touches by taking readers inside more than 100 homes throughout the country.
Focusing on every space of the home, from the entrance to the courtyard, Freeman offers insight into what's influencing Chinese design and the unique and innovative ways people are introducing those elements into their own living spaces.
Question: You've devoted much of your career to documenting Asian design trends. What about the aesthetic speaks to you? Why are you so drawn to this particular style?
Answer: In fact, it's been a natural extension of two long-standing interests of mine: Asia as a source, if you like, for my documentary reportage work, and living spaces in general. The latter began in America, where I did a series of books for publishers like Rizzoli and Stewart, Tabori & Chang with the book designer David Larkin, who was hugely influential for me in this area. They included “Shaker: Life Work and Art” and “American Masterworks.”
My shooting in Asia began in Thailand and sort of spiraled outward from there over about 40 years, taking in the rest of Southeast Asia, then Japan, and now, more and more, I'm shooting in China.
As for the aesthetic, the region is so large that I'm not sure it means much to talk about a particular style, but as the years passed, I learned how much influence China has had on everywhere else in East and Southeast Asia, and not always in the obvious ways. It's a huge subject, but China has been through so many different cultural periods, each with their own stylistic features, and, on top of this, there's the regional variety, and now the reinterpretations of style from two new generations of Chinese architects, designers and artists.
Q: Does bringing an Asian influence into your decor take full commitment? Or are there ways to simply introduce the essence of the style?
A: No, not a full Chinese-or-nothing commitment at all. In the West, I've seen some people do that compete cultural and design makeover to their houses or apartments, but it's quite unusual. And if we're talking about the higher end of contemporary design for living in China itself— which you tend to find in the creative and media world and particularly in major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu — you hardly ever see slavish reproduction of a particular aesthetic like Ming.
It's a modern world, and there's a lot of experimentation going on. Much of the best of it, to my way of thinking, involves going back to certain cultural roots and reworking them in a modern context.