China Modern By Sharon Leece Photography by A. Chestor Ong Periplus $285 The past decade has seen Chinese decorative style make its biggest international impact since the 18th century, creating a paradox for designers, according to Sharon Leece. While the nation has opened up to the world, its interior decorators have learned to appreciate the classical aesthetics of their homeland and to incorporate traditional references. This is most evident in Hong Kong, where an obsession with the west is relaxing. Hong Kong architect Ed Ng is quoted as saying: 'Designers have now realised that good design is down to roots and foundations, rather than following whatever was popular in the west. We have learned to use our own culture as a base and absorb design philosophy and ideology from the rest of the world.' Backed by A. Chester Ong's photographs of some of the best designs of the past 10 years in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, Leece argues that China Modern marks a moment when styles and boundaries are unclear. China's late entry into the international mainstream has given its designers greater licence to experiment with untapped traditional ways and international ideas. Leece predicts that the next step will be the emergence of a new Chinese style based on interpretations of the country's history, particularly the literature, painting, ceramics and lacquer ware of the Tang dynasty, the simple elegance of the Ming and the opulence of the Qing. The first chapter, 'New China Chic', explores the early signs of this new approach. It opens with the Pink Loft restaurant in Beijing's Sanlitun embassy district. Designed and part-owned by Lin Tianmiao, the restaurant uses silks and golden drapes with chandeliers and tiled surfaces, creating 'a kitsch atmosphere that successfully mixes chinoiserie-style with bordello chic'. More signs of New China Chic are found in a Ming dynasty courtyard house in Beijing that has been filled with contemporary Chinese art. 'It's the contrast that makes it interesting,' says the owner, American-Chinese lawyer and art dealer Handel Lee. Ming styles are also brought to the apartment of Loretta and Lawrence Lee in Tai Hang Road, Hong Kong. The period's simple lines suit modern apartments and provide a calm retreat for modern lives, Leece writes. 'Beijing Avant Garde' shows the influence of Ming in the capital. The chapter concentrates on houses around Beijing that start with the traditional idea of harmony with nature before taking in the latest architectural approaches. 'The Tao Of Design' highlights the benefits of traditional, simple elegance in offsetting the pace of modern life. We see the Mid-Levels apartment of Douglas Young, owner of the G.O.D homeware chain. Young says the key to Hong Kong living is a global vision with subtle Chinese and Asian characteristics. The chapter also shows approaches to reflecting ancient feng shui principles in Kowloon Tong or the more recent history of shop-houses in a 40-year-old Sai Ying Pun apartment. 'Echoes Of The Past' concludes the book with a call to preserve the architecture that has informed designers who have a sense of classical Chinese style. Designers and architects with the skill to revive old buildings are crucial to ensuring that the hutongs, longtangs and siheyuans of Beijing and the Shikumen houses and art deco apartments of Shanghai escape the fate of Hong Kong's lost architecture, the writer argues. Ong's wide lens shows how the Ming dynasty courtyards of Beijing and Hong Kong's peak apartments can be reinvented by fusing old and new ideas. The chapter opens with the 1923 garage in Kotewall Road, the last building of its kind, which has been urbanised by American lawyer C.J. Wysocki and his wife, Gloria. The enthusiasm of Ong and Leece provides plenty of ideas for home-makers and even more challenges for China's urban planners.