Contemporary Asian … Tropical Modern … Minimalist … can you define your style?

Listen to a roomful of interior designers long enough and your eyes are sure to glaze over from the sheer volume of jargon being thrown about. Don’t be put off just because you don’t know what someone means by “Rococo Post-Modernist Design”. It’s just like building a wardrobe … learn the basics then make your own style.

Think of décor style as a box of crayons. In a small box you only get eight crayons that might be labeled with expansive categories like “Contemporary” or “Traditional”. But in a big box with 64 crayons the choices are infinitely more interesting. You could find yourself selecting “Contemporary Asian Minimalist” or “Bali Modern”. The combinations are endless. And then of course there is the ever elusive “Eclectic” look.

Perhaps the hottest styles going here in Pattaya are the fusion categories of Tropical Modern and Tropical Asian. Most foreigners want a fresh look and to pay homage to their adopted country for its culture and natural beauty. But modern clean lines seem to harmonize with life in a seaside city.

Modern styles are also perceived to be low maintenance and devoid of clutter; a notion that appeals to most holidaymakers, expats and retirees.

Tropical Modern seems like a contradiction. When one thinks of the tropics, visions of jungles and monkeys and pristine beaches are conjured up.

How does that mix with modern furnishings?

The key to mixing the two styles is to understand the role color and shape play with our perception of style.

Certain hues of red will always make us think of them as “Chinese Red”.

Long horizontal lines will always be considered Japanese with their Zen-like calming effect.

Use of materials like stainless steel and mirrored walls will give us a feeling of modern, contemporary design. The shape of a table, no matter how modern, will always look Asian somehow if the legs are at a certain angle and made of a certain wood. Sliding, or disappearing pocket doors, no matter what color or texture, will always be thought of as Asian influenced.

Mostly, a tropical feel is all about color and openness. In the tropics, homes are designed with a great amount of concern placed on cooling. Hence, the “open plan” rules the roost. Certain materials make themselves ubiquitous because of their function.

Ceramic tiles are the order of the day for flooring here. Mostly because they are resistant to moisture and insects … and they are cool. Nobody wants a hot floor.

Natural materials like slate, travertine and hardwoods can also mark a place as tropical simply by using indigenous products in your décor. Rattan, bamboo and even coconut wood are sure signs your look is tropical and Asian.More than anything, color triggers the tropical memories in our brains.

Fruit colors like tangerine, mango and Watermelon Red always take me to a sandy beach under a palm tree. Ocean Blue/Green gives you an entirely different feeling that Forest Green.

The combination of strategically placed tropical color with natural materials gives us the base for our Tropical Modern style.

So, how do you inject the modern?

First of all, disguise modern shapes with tropical finishes.

Take an art deco/modern style sideboard finished in teak veneer. It has a modern shape but a familiar and tropical appeal because of the teak. A contemporary shaped sofa looks infinitely softer when wrapped in rich distressed leather and adorned with silk tropical printed throw pillows.

Use the same technique in your kitchen. High gloss finish in any kitchen will always denote it as “modern” or “contemporary”. Blend the kitchen into your look by using high gloss on the upper cabinets and a bold patterned wood veneer on the bottom.

If your house is to be “Tropical Modern”, nowhere should it be more apparent than in the kitchen. The use of tropical wood tones down the reflectiveness of the high gloss. You could go a step further and make the high gloss in a wild tropical color like tangerine or mango yellow.

This approach could be dragged around the entire house. A built-in entertainment center with high-gloss, natural wood and glass shelves in the living room; a high-gloss modern style bed resting on an Oriental rug and teakwood floor; the combinations are endless.

Minimalism is a cousin of any “modern” style. Less clutter seems like a modern thing.

When deciding on furniture, think “less is more”. Instead of populating your living room with several pieces of furniture, go for one stylish sofa in a really rich natural material. By the simple fact you are using less furniture, the tropical pallet you have chosen is being altered by the use of minimalism.

Less furniture is more modern no matter what other style variables are present.

The same goes for bathrooms.

Try to eliminate any need for glass doors or shower curtains. One aspect of classic contemporary design and Asian design is simplicity and function in bathrooms. Design the room in a way that has no need for doors or curtains. You’ll score big points for both modern and Asian design.

When it comes to blending Asian elements into your Tropical Modern design, a little goes a long way. A few Asian elements are really all you need. Obviously a Buddha in the house will always make it have an Asian feel.

Take care to display the image properly in a respectful way. Certain types of artwork, no matter where they come from, lend an Asian flair. Batiks, paintings of koi, Khmer statues, and oriental rugs … all of these things can give your place just the right splash of Asian flair. But, don’t overdo it.

The important thing is not to get in a hurry. Trying to build your hybrid style in a day can be disastrous. You run the risk of a place that looks contrived, like a new Irish pub that tries to build an old patina overnight.

Choose a pallet of colors and select some natural materials to lay down your base design. Then add furniture slowly, letting each piece find its place in your home. By the time you get to lamps and rugs and artwork … you are simply fine-tuning the look.

And remember; don’t take the style too literally. “Modern” doesn’t necessarily mean “space age”. “Asian” doesn’t have to mean dragons and tigers. And “Tropical” doesn’t instantly indicate bananas and coconuts. Take a look at the shapes and colors associated with these styles and build a style that is completely your own.


By Bart Walters