It is easy to be lured by the attractions of Western-derived, fashionable, and even futuristic forms of interior home decoration. After all, such professional, exclusive-looking images are everywhere: in design magazines, glossy coffeebooks featuring architectural marvels, and at award shows for new designers. These styles are bound to make your visitors' pop out in admiration, and cause them leave a trail of salivating jaws in your home.
But the fact is, shiny and bright as your designer-styled home might be, there are times when you long to be assert your cultural identity and your heritage. Somehow, the presence of a kopitiam-style marble-topped table in your dining room is more powerful than a glass-and-steel construction by a famous designer. It might even make you feel like eating at home for once. An old-fashioned bamboo screen adds an Asian touch to a room. Regardless of the basic style of your current home décor, it is easy to add a few traditional touches and modifications to show off your cultural heritage.
Some people find that the principles of feng-shui are useful in determining the functions and uses of one's space, but this is not essential. There are only a few simple and basic rules when it comes to the creation of a traditional home.
Perhaps the most basic principle to keep in mind is that in traditional homes, each room or space tends to have well-defined functions. This is unlike the open plan often seen in contemporary homes, where spaces flow into one another. In fact, it is one of the most striking things about traditional homes: the insistence on having a room or space for every activity. The living room is used for family interaction and communal relaxation — and more formally, as a place to entertain guests. It is usually a separate space from, for example, the dining room, or the kitchen. The dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and study/home office all have their uses, and these functions do not usually merge.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to this type of floor play. On the one hand, you will not become easily distracted from your tasks, be it checking bills or making dinner, and this gives your home a well-organised, disciplined air. On the other hand, this can cause your home to become overly rigid, e.g, you can't eat dinner in the living room.
Nonetheless, if you have an open plan in your home, it is still possible to create the atmosphere of a traditional home.
Start off by highlighting the possible function of a room through the use of lighting, distinctive pieces of furniture, and the layout of the furniture. You can create a cosy living room space at one end of your dining-cum-living space by arranging the relevant furniture, while maintaining its use as a dining space by hanging, for example, a distinctive lamp over the dining table. Delineate spaces whenever possible or when it does not make your home too cramped.
Draw attention to aspects of your culture that are on display, such as old photographs or paintings by using spotlights, or by creating an alcove for them. Your collection of teapots, or vases, or books go onto bookshelves or an unobstrusive display unit; the contents are the focus of attention.
Keep your leather couches, and your designer coffee table, but have you thought about accentuating your living room with a piece of traditional furniture? Wooden furniture, especially in a dark wood, may look severe and dull on its own, but a pair of carved chairs, or a rosewood armchair, can become the focal point of a modern-looking room because they have so much character. It is not necessary to search for antiques; a good-quality reproduction will work, too.
If heavy looking furniture is not to your taste, perhaps you might prefer traditional rattan furniture, which adds an element of fun and whimsy to any home. There is something appealing about combining a slick, modern décor — maybe with an all-white, or all-black colour scheme — with a piece of well-made, cosy-looking armchair (or a pair of them): the mixture of textures add a touch of nature to your home, too.
Get a round table for your dining room: yes, the marble-topped table as mentioned earlier, or a just a plain wooden one. The Chinese traditionally believe that a round table promotes family togetherness, and is lucky as it has no sharp corners that might disrupt feng shui. If you can find one, add a traditional kitchen sideboard to your kitchen, harking back to the days when china and eating utensils were stored in it.
Wooden carved screens, bamboo blinds, or even an altar table — transformed into a side-table or a display table — can all help to give your home a traditional touch.
Old lamps, like simple pendant lamps of old, or more dramatic pieces like chandeliars often add to the atmosphere. We no longer need to light kerosene lamps or candles for light, but kerosene lamps and old candlesticks help to accentuate a room. Old hanging lamps, or cast-iron ones, all help to enhance the vintage look. On festive occasions, lanterns, oil lamps or candelabrums add to the atmosphere and spirit of celebration.
At first, you might assume that conversative and traditional homes make use of boring, or earthy colours like white or grey. This is not true. On the contrary, traditional homes tended to favour strong, solid colours to make a definite statement and to add character. Red is the colour of danger, but to the Chinese, it is also a colour that brings good fortune. Other ethnic groups prefer sky-blue, or a fresh, calming green. Stylized designs on the ceiling or above the skirting on walls, either painted or by the use of decorated tiles, can also add to the atmosphere.
In soft furnishings like cushions, curtains or rugs, add a traditional touch by having these items in the 'lucky' colour of your culture. Other alternatives are brightly-printed floral fabrics — maybe a batik print, or a traditional Chinese designs.
But it is the little touches that truly matter. The devil is in the details, and it is the attention to the overall effect and the small additions that truly help to create the traditional home. Instead of a coffee machine, place teapot and teacups (for Chinese or English tea, according to your preference) on the mantelpiece. Hang black-and-white photographs of your family, such as those from your grandparents' generation, or put up wall decorations in the form of wooden carvings, a painting, or small curios such as souvenirs from your travels.
Plant a few pots of bamboo or bonsai to add greenery to your home. Rear fish, either in a tank or in a bowl. Install a ceiling fan, which also has the advantage of being more efficient at circulating the air. A carpet, or a rug, serves to add cosiness to a room or a passageway, especially one in a traditional design — perhaps a Persian carpet — or a homely-looking handwoven rug.
There is a lot that you can do to create a traditional home for yourself and your loved ones. These changes might not be as eye-catching, but at the end of the day when you enter your home, you can feel that it is a place that you truly identify with. You have added your personal touch to it, and it is no longer a bland, vaguely-Western inspired space.