While the idea of Contemporary or Modern design may conjure up images of sleek, minimalistic styling and angular edges, there are several emerging variations of this theme. These are the result of an emerging softer side of modernism within the design community, wherein new design sensibilities allow indeed, encourage individual self-expression.
The editors of Metropolitan Home magazine summed up this emerging style when they said: "Modernism has grown, evolved and now prospered into a new wave of Modern, born of the neat, clean, pared-down aesthetics[it] is less aggressive, rigorous, and intellectual, but a lot more sensual. Overt decoration and Tudor hand-crafting sits happily alongside democratic mass market formsand have simply settled in to provide highly personal mixes that results in 'mi casa, es su casa' comfort."
One of the most popular variations on this type of design draws its influence from the concept of East Meets West, where kitchens and baths are influenced by Asian design sensitivities. This is sometimes referred to as Pacific Rim design. Kitchens and baths designed in this style may initially appear to be simple in their lack of adornment, yet they are actually quite complex in their simplicity.
PACIFIC RIM design
When focusing on Asian design sensibilities, designers trying to grasp the nature of Pacific Rim or Asian design need to first understand how different the definition of beauty is between Western and Eastern artists. Over the centuries, the Japanese have developed a unique design vocabulary focusing on quiet, unpretentious, highly valued objects placed sparingly in interiors so they can be enjoyed without distraction.
The Japanese believe beauty is a sensory experience; beauty isn't inherent in an object, rather it evolves as the viewer and the object interact with one another.
This definition of beauty is explained by the philosophy of "Wabi-Sabi." This is sometimes referred to as "Japanese rustic design," but the term "rustic" is incorrectly used to imply crudeness or a lack of sophistication. Wabi-Sabi is very sophisticated. It is an appreciation of the simple organic elegance of nature's materials, rich in raw texture and placed adjacent to native objects: Think "complex simplicity."
Wabi means new and fresh the first blooms on a cherry tree in spring. In art and design, it connotes a modesty of choice and an unassuming naturalness.
Sabi, on the other hand, is old beauty calming, vulnerable, something with a patina of age. Things rustic, worn or tarnished exhibit a quality of maturity, something that can only be achieved through long years of existence. It can neither be created nor induced; it simply occurs through the natural process of exposure to the elements or long years of fond usage.
Therefore, Wabi-Sabi is about embracing the inherent beauty occurring in the juxtaposition of something new and fresh combined with the earned beauty in something well-worn and cherished.
If one appreciates the newness of Wabi and the oldness of Sabi, it becomes easier to see why, for instance, the hand-made Geocrete countertops created by noted designer and sculptor Fu-Tung Cheng of Berkeley, CA-based Cheng Design, can be beautifully enhanced by insetting patterned computer chips.
Likewise, it makes more sense why a design might combine 4"x4" glass tiles with a rusticated knotty cherry wide plank floor, separated by the sleek elegance of quarter-sawn maple cabinets in a contemporary space. (A good source for information about Wabi-Sabi is Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, published by Stone Bridge Press, Berkley, CA.)
A second major concept of Asian culture is the value of naturalness in all things. For example, the Tatami mat flooring in Japan carries an air of sophistication, yet is woven of rice straw a discard at the time of harvest. The true beauty of straw is visible because of the position of dignity in which it is placed.