African Design and Asian Style: African Zen Modernism in Brooklyn home interiors

January 9, 2010 Features, Home Decor

by Atim Annette Oton, May 2006


A quiet revolution is shaking the design world, and its base camp is in Brooklyn.

The borough’s renowned melting-pot neighborhoods are producing a mix of styles and flavors that merges Asian and African design. Just enter several homes in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights or Crown Heights, and you’ll see the startling yet pleasing juxtaposition of colors, fabrics, furniture, tabletop and wall elements that adorn interior halls and living spaces.

Designer Achuziam Maha of Nuru Collective, a Bedford Stuyvesant resident with roots in Jamaica and Nigeria, actively clashes Zen style with African references and motifs to create what can only be called New Zen-African Modernism. Her work from the Bridge Street Bedford Stuyvesant Showhouse uses not only bold color but earth tones and furniture pieces with African shapes and forms. Here, color is both a soothing element and a daring take on redefining space and spatial experience. Color from both African and Asian cultures – from bright reds to vibrant yellows – are scattered amidst cool tans and browns.

If color is the background element in most home spaces, then fabrics and their distinct patterns and textures take center stage to embellish living and sleeping spaces and adorn furniture. Designer Linda Lindsey’s furniture collection uses African fabric as key elements in re-stylizing the look of modern furniture pieces. African fabrics are similar to their Asian counterparts in the color matrix — bold, rich and vibrant. Each makes its own design statement.

Asian and African Fusion is not only in style but here to stay: just see the space of artist, photographer and Clinton Hill resident Laylah Barrayn, whose decisive choice of a Ghanaian batik, an Indian sari and a Thai Rice hat to adorn her walls speaks to this trend. From pillows to table linens, the return of fabric, pattern and texture to interior spaces this season is reviving the cultural meshing of design styles.

No home interior project is complete without an accent piece, or “tabletop” as designers call them. Brooklyn design and home furnishing stores offer a impressive array of styles, shapes and forms of that perennial tabletop, the vase. No home should be without one, or several. But in the universe of the new bold Fusion style, a simple glass vase for flowers is no longer an option. Vietnamese bamboo cone-shaped tall vases are what’s hot now – with either dry or live flowers in them. Simple black-ribbed vases from Ghana, echoing a zen aesthetic, also create elegant centerpieces for living and dining spaces.

Brooklyn is also seeing the re-emergence of feng shui as a contemporary design principle. Feng shui is the Chinese art of positioning objects in buildings and other places, based on the belief in yin and yang and the flow of chi, the vital force or energy inherent in all things. The goal here is to create balance using the earth’s forces. Some home furnishings that best incorporate feng shui principles in Asian and African cultures are mirrors and masks. Collectors of these two wall elements place both African and Asian masks on walls to form a focal point in a room – as seen in these masks from Indonesia, Ghana and Nigeria.

African with an Asian vibe? Or Asian with an African touch? It’s hard to say in Brooklyn, where people and styles blend to create new and dynamic combinations.

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