23 Aug How Culture Influences Bedroom Furniture
Culture can be an extremely complex thing, it is often unseen and deeply rooted in our daily lives, and we hardly ever acknowledge it. It can be seen as a process—a process which takes many decades and centuries to develop, often leading back to the histories of our ancestors. In a sense, culture can also be known as a societal norm. It is how we do certain things, the why’s, how’s and the values we share with people within the same community.
Say you’re having breakfast in the US, a common meal would be something like bread and jam, cereal, or a bagel with some cream cheese. If you’re halfway across the globe in Japan however, you would be having something along the lines of grilled fish, miso soup and a bowl of piping hot rice.
A common cross-cultural mistake that many people commit without even knowing is the usage of hand gestures. A simple hand gesture such as a thumbs up in most parts of the world is a common gesture to say “good job” to someone or to signify approval. In certain Asian countries as well as in the Middle East, the thumbs up gesture is a big no-no, considered to be very rude. In Australia—a thumbs up can be used to signify approval, similar to most countries, however, if you were to give that thumbs up a little up and down shake, it turns into a great insult.
Similarly, culture also spills into design. So what is design really? There have been numerous researches done by scholars across the globe and this is what they found: to some people design concerns an object. Some see it as a practice, while others see it as form and aesthetic. In a cultural sense, design is a form of measurement. It is part of a process meant to capture the ideation, innovation and creation of a cultural identity.
Due to the heavy influence of culture in different parts of the world, we end up having different views on various things. Likewise, when it comes to furniture design, there are many aspects that may differ in different parts of the world. Cultural influence on design has been prevalent since ancient times. Without many of us even knowing, the furniture within our house has been greatly influenced by cultural design. Even items within the bedroom such as bed frames, chairs, wardrobes and bedding accessories are no exception to this rule.
It is widely known that Asian countries are generally rich in cultural design and history. Let’s take a look at our bedroom’s most prominent feature—the bed itself. We find that different parts of the world have different bed designs and the designs of these beds are usually heavily influenced by the history and culture of that particular geographical location. In many Asian countries, these cultural influences have become so well-known, that many interior designers can instantly recognize the cultural origin of a particular piece of furniture with just a glance.
At a simple glance it is easy to tell that the setting in the picture above is of Chinese origin. In Chinese furnishing, it is common to find what is known as lacquer finishing, as well as geometric spiral shapes and carvings. Furniture with lacquered finishing, otherwise known as lacquerware, describe furniture with glossy, shiny surfaces usually seen in tables or chairs. Another distinct cultural design is the usage of burgundy-black wood that is oxidised to give a purple-black colour. Such furniture is also often embedded with mother-of-pearl, marble carvings and jade stones, raw materials that are common to China.
Four-poster beds with silk curtains are one of the more well recognized designs when it comes to traditional chinese beds. In many cases, the four pillars are decorated with either precious stones or carvings of dragons which signify prosperity. Red colored bedding and pillows are another cultural belief among the ancient Chinese, as they believe that the color red brings health and fertility to the bedroom.
Japan is another country rich in culture, exhibiting bedroom designs that exemplify simplicity, relaxation and humility. Tatami mats are a common furniture piece that originates from Japan. Essentially, tatami mats are the Japanese equivalent of carpet flooring. It is a traditional flooring made of rice straw mats. Tatami mats are generally made with a standard size of 88cm x 175cm. In modern Japan, rooms of apartments or houses covered with tatami mats are still highly popular. Historically, tatami mats have been used in Japan since ancient times to keep out the bitter cold of winter.
Japanese people are generally more conservative than most other populations. As such, they place high value on privacy. In many traditional households of Japan, wooden doors with translucent paper panels can often be found. These are called “shoji screens” and manifest in various ways, including as windows, doors, and room dividers. While providing privacy, shoji screens allows natural light to diffuse into the room, creating a sense of natural beauty and tranquility. The emphasis on natural light and minimalism in these bedroom features derive itself from Zen Buddhist influence.
As for beds, it is a part of Japanese tradition to sleep with mattresses on the floor. These mattresses are often soft and foldable, dubbed “futons”. As Japanese people value efficiency and flexibility, futons are foldable beds that can be kept in the day to allow for more usable space. Many traditional homes in Japan still follows this culture today, and can be commonly found most hotels around hot spring towns.
In Scandinavia, where long harsh winters and very few hours of sunlight a day keep people indoors, most people tend to stay in small houses, which brings to light why the minimalist concept is popular in the Scandinavia. Due to such spirit dampening weather, the need to lighten up the home, to make it feel cozy and warm, becomes very important. The main feature of Scandinavian design is in its simplicity, geometry, clean lines and functionality. Unlike in Eastern culture, Scandinavian culture is more subtle when it comes to aesthetics, and this can be inferred through their choice of material.
One common feature of Scandinavian design is its usage of wool. As one of the staple materials, wool, whether knitted or felted, manifests itself upon many surfaces in the Scandinavian bedroom. Due to the harsh cold throughout most of the year, Scandinavian designs incorporate wool as a staple, to provide a sense of warmth and functionality, be it in a form a woolen blanket or carpet. In addition to material usage, geometric patterns are also common design for these items.
Scandinavians have a deeply rooted cultural love for nature and natural products, evidenced in the popular activities of hiking and biking. To remind themselves of the beauty of the great outdoors, they try to bring as much of nature indoors as possible and this is reflected in many of the Scandinavian furniture designs. In most cases, beds, tables as wells as flooring and ceiling are made out of white wood or light colored wood to allow the reflection of natural lighting. Another distinct feature of Scandinavian design is in it’s furniture legging. As seen in the photo above, many Scandinavian designed furniture have tapered legs which point outward, adding to its aesthetics.
Culture plays a big influence on bedroom furniture design. In some cases, as a bold, impactful statement, and at other times, a subtle accent to the room’s atmosphere. It can always be felt upon entering the room. Whether it is influenced by historical traditions or the natural environment, all cultures are fundamentally different from each other. It is always interesting to learn new things from the cultural design of others besides your own. As interior designers, it allows us to better our understanding of cultural design and how it fits into a home. If you’re looking to understand a little bit more about the other parts of the house such as the living room, check out “A History of the Living Room”!