coffee table

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am

Curvilinear, undulating, dynamic. These adjectives characterise the early 20th-century art nouveau movement, which, in architecture and interior design, modernised rococo opulence and adopted highly stylised organic forms, in particular plant-based motifs. It was a time when artists demanded to be regarded as such, even as they were 'descending' to the design of furniture, homeware and affordable housing, writes Klaus-Jurgen Sembach in his sprawling treatise, Art Nouveau (below left; Taschen, HK$104).

True to the Taschen format, images make this book a keeper, although the accompanying text could have been better edited for user-friendliness and spelling. Dense and complex, the tome traces modernism's first steps then spotlights contributions made to the movement in Brussels, Barcelona, Helsinki, Chicago and other cities.

Art nouveau's influence can also be seen in the Hanoi home of French designer Valerie Gregori McKenzie, whose house, featured in Vietnam Style (below right; Periplus, HK$360), was designed and built by Vietnamese architect Pham Dinh Bieu in 1953. Featuring distinctive large round windows reminiscent of portholes, the colour-filled abode is among several colonial-style residences explored that meld traditional with modern forms.

Similarly, the Khanh family house, one of Ho Chi Minh City's oldest, boasts aspects of yore mixed with contemporary furniture visitors might find familiar: Quasar Khanh's classic aluminium dining chairs are teamed with laquered bamboo furniture designed by his wife, Michele d'Albert.

A significant portion of Vietnam Style is geared towards travellers, armchair or otherwise, wanting a deeper insight into the country's history and culture. Authors Bertrand de Hartingh and Anna Craven-Smith-Milnes take readers into not only homes but also graceful temples and pagodas, showing how the country's architecture reflects 1,000-plus years of Chinese rule and how the French-colonial influence later left its mark, particularly in the cities.