When you are away from your hometown, the first thing you miss is food. Then you miss the small things that you didn’t even know you liked: the color, the smell, and the quirky buildings of the town itself. After hitting an Asian restaurant for good ol’ flavor, it helps to get a small interior item to make your space more familiar.
Luckily for all Asian expats in foreign cities, the Asian design scene is getting modern and global while maintaining traditional aesthetics. Aric Chen, a curator for the M+ museum for visual culture in Hong Kong, set a nice example by “placing Asia at the center” of design history. Asian brands are also evolving to apply traditional Asian (or more local) design elements to a western lifestyle. Take any item from the following brands, and feel their elegance and warmth.
1. Shanghai Tang Porcelain from Hong Kong
In 1994 Shanghai Tang launched with Shanghai fashion of the 1920s and 1930s reinterpreted for modern Hong Kong women. Their qipao dresses are sleek and impeccable enough to wear in a business meeting. Now a lifestyle brand, Shanghai Tang draws inspiration from nature and the heritage of China, from old gardens to jade. Our special favorites are porcelain or bone china jars. With iconic shapes and classy colors, one jar will add a touch of noble lady class to the most minimal room.
2. Jim Thompson Silk from Bangkok
Jim Thompson visited Thailand right after WWII as an American intelligence agent, and something changed him there. After completing his tour of duty, he chose to make Bangkok his permanent home and almost single-handedly rehabilitated Thai silk industry, before disappearing mysteriously. Jim Thompson silk carries this romantic legend as well as sensual Thai culture. It looks perfect on a summer duvet or colorful cushions.
3. Shoyeido Incense from Kyoto
They say, in Kyoto, it’s not a proper store if it isn’t at least three generations old. Shoyeido Incense, with more than 300 years of history, is proper indeed. Shoyeido is famous for developing the royal court’s secret of incense blending and is now the incense supplier to the major temples in Japan. The scent is superb for home use as well: it is elegant – not overpowering – and somehow refreshing. The variety of scents is almost fail-proof. When you smell ‘the scent of snow’, you feel like seeing a quiet garden blanketed in fresh snow.
4. G.O.D. Tableware from Hong Kong
Their acronym is G.O.D. Don’t you feel kitschy already? Goods of Desire uses the typical images of Hong Kong – not posh skyscrapers or fancy hotels, but of common people – in pop art-worthy interior items. Neon signs on Nathan road provide abstract patterns for artwork, and shabby letterboxes in old HK apartments look good as kitchen magnets. For their attention-grabbing clever designs, the price is reasonable, too. Start with their tableware. The ‘Double Happiness’ teapot and cup are cool enough to be in a posh Chinese restaurant in Berlin.
5. Thann Candle from Bangkok
For many overworking Asian women, Bangkok means awesome spas: globally renowned Thai massage, hospitality culture and equally kind prices, and a deep understanding of beauty from color to scent. No wonder there are world famous Thai spa/beauty brands like Thann, Panpuri, Erb to name a few. Thann launched in 2002 and leads the pack with comprehensive beauty product lines and partnerships with 5-star hotels and airlines (including Thai Airways). Oriental Essence is a smart choice for candles with approachable yet romantic scent.
6. Reservoart Artwork from Bali
Bali has always been a haven for ‘free-spirits’. Ubud, surrounded by tropical rainforests and rice paddies, has particularly attracted craftsmen, artists, and digital nomads. Ubud’s art scene is now bursting with galleries and as many as Starbucks as Manhattan. The best option is to visit the Ubud streets yourself: too many shops and workhouses producing similar artworks may look like touristy traps, but trust us: if you pick the right one, you get the focal point for a whole house for the price of one dinner. If you don’t have time to drop by Bali over the weekend, rely on online shops like Reservoart. The curation and worldwide shipping justify the price.
7. Muji Appliances from Tokyo
In design magazines like Wallpaper or DeZeen, it seems clear how much design people around the world (especially in western Europe) are smitten by Japanese minimalism. Muji combines wit, warmth, and a utilitarian approach with this minimalist style. The wall-mounted CD player, the most famous Muji product, provides a great alternative for humble youth who have a taste for Bang & Olufsen’s famous CD player but not the wallet. From kotatsu (heated table with blankets to cover the legs) to thermopots, their appliances don’t fail to lose this mix: wit, warmth, convenience, and award-worthy design.