The Myanmar concept of simple living in comfort more than style is conspicuous in most homes one visits in Yangon. The extensive use of teak, as flooring, wall panels, heavy furniture and the ubiquitous mantle for an imposing Buddha statue, adds warmth to the home giving it a much lived in look. It is also in striking contrast to the minimalist look of contemporary westernized homes, which is not found even in the homes of the well-heeled, globe-trotting Myanmar folk who have experienced the best of the west.
But homes are changing and new concepts are being introduced by interior designers and home décor outlets mushrooming all over Yangon. Big brands like Italy’s Marchetti and the exclusive, upscale Casabella, have been around for a long time, but multi brand outlets like the Living Mall are gaining popularity since they are more like one stop solutions for furniture and home décor.
The best of course are the teak, padauk, rosewood, and tamalan wood carved furniture and décor pieces found in numerous outlets like the Teak Villa, Golden Family, Sweety Life, Gold Furniture, and many more. They accept orders and get the pieces manufactured at their factories in Mandalay etc., often taking months to deliver. But the quality remains unquestionable and well worth the wait. The most exclusive furniture one can find is Burma Chindits which operates out of a nondescript warehouse, office cum retail outlet, refurbishing antiques, and using reclaimed teak to carve out new furniture pieces, more traditional than contemporary, in an attempt to preserve the Burmese colonial character of furniture. Helping Hands is another favorite that manages to procure antique pieces of furniture from all corners of Myanmar, restores and sells them.
At the other end of the spectrum are the cheaper furniture varieties made out of prefabricated board, metal and glass that comes in knocked down condition and is ready to be assembled. Available in plenty at multi outlet chains like Sweety Home, Pwint Oo, and others, this is cheaper and not as durable as hard wood furniture, but very practical as a quick fix for those who need furniture for its utility rather than its aesthetic appeal.
In terms of décor and display, interior design and accessorizing solid furniture, a few lessons can be learnt from neighboring Thailand which is pretty similarly endowed but has evolved aesthetically and offers a wide ranging variety of décor accessories that can transform the simplest of homes. There is something very eye catching and soul stirring about Thai décor that makes everyone stop a moment to take in the beauty, the aura of peace, and let the soothing ambience seep into his system. Irrespective of the contrasting styles seen, the common Asian spirit and accents are preserved in both the subdued, natural and earthy tones as well as the rich, bright and vibrant hues used to accentuate dark wooden furniture and wooden parquet floors. These can so easily be adapted to accentuate the beauty of what is available in Myanmar while retaining the basic essence. A close look at Asian countries, reveals décor that has the basic design elements influenced by the Chinese styles, an undertone of Khmer, Indonesian carving styles and Indian art weaving its way into contemporary designs. In countries like Thailand and Myanmar one finds elements of nature indoors, displaying a strong Buddhist influence and the extensive use of handicrafts that showcase the tremendous talent of the people in weaving the most intricate designs into their furniture and artifacts.
While Thailand and Myanmar are neighbors, sharing a long border stretching over a thousand kilometers there is a striking difference in the décor. While both display a distinct diversity in design and color, materials and elements from nature, what makes Thai décor different is the clutter-free and rather neat appearance that can be attributed to the use of natural weaves, mats and fabric to complement the hard wood which gives a warmer, softer appearance.
All over Asia, the décor displays certain common elements:
- Extensive use of wood– Wood is used for flooring, roofing, wall paneling and of course, furniture. It varies from teak to mango wood, and lacquer adds to the superb finish of flawless workmanship. Intricate carving on wood is seen in screens and wall hangings.
- Handicrafts and other craft works – these are an integral part of the décor to fill in spaces, adorn the walls and every corner of the home. The lavish use of gold and bright colors dazzle and leave the spectator awestruck as he admires the vases, jars, bowls, plates, mirrors, lamps and statues, all of which are made of clay, wood, or ceramic.
- The spiritual element– Statues of the Buddha are reverently placed in every home. Symbolic of the powerful and omnipresent Buddhist spirituality, they are an authentic feature of Thai home décor bringing peace, serenity and calm.
- Water feature– Many Asian homes have started adding a water feature like a miniature water fountain, a fish tank or waterfall as advised by the laws of Feng Shui.
- Adorned walls– It is unusual to find the walls of an Asian home bare. They will almost always have paintings hung, a collection of pictures or plates, wall hangings, screens and so on.
- Scents and aroma– The aroma of sandal, camphor, lemon grass or other natural soothing scents waft up like a breath of fresh air as you enter. This could be from aromatic candles, scented oils being burnt in lamps or incense burnt in the spirit house.
- Utility and Balance– these are visible, irrespective of the shades and materials used. Every part of the décor serves a purpose and a balance is maintained in interior design.
- The use of silk and jewel tones– While natural and earthy elements are widely used, at the other of the spectrum one finds bright and flashy colors, jewel tones and silk embellishments, besides curtains, covers, runners and so on.
With all these, the décor appeals and impresses, yet its diversity of features and styles makes it easy to blend some of its pieces into the Western home. From the rustic country house or the compact apartment to the modern, elegant villa, these accents have the ability to bring the best of Asia’s exoticism to contemporary home décor, complementing rather than detract from the original home decor.
Ways to bring a fusion of east and west
- Keep your large pieces of furniture, but add accessories that bring warmth and comfort like cushions and throws, runners on tables and cabinets, mats and rugs. These will instantly make the room colorful and more appealing.
- Infuse tranquility that emanates from statues of the Buddha, whose serene countenance soothes and heals.
- Bring gentle light and soft aroma in to the room with aromatic candles. Similarly incense sticks and natural scented oil lamps not only have the air permeating with their fragrance, but also help to keep away unpleasantness and adverse forces from the home.
- Additional pieces like chairs and cabinets made out of fine dark wood, will brighten the room against the backdrop of light flooring and painted walls.
- Create a vibrant environment with the dazzling colors and natural sheen of silk accessories like cushions and drapes.
- Transform the display areas of the home by placing the finest ceramic creations like vases, bowls and plates, on cabinets and centre tables to bring a scintillating richness into the room.
- Add simple accessories such as art work including figurines and statues, mango wood vases and bowls, paper lamps and pewter clocks can add a touch of originality to your home.
This style of home décor inspires countless home decorating ideas in all western countries that foster beautiful living. What meets the eye soothes the exhausted mind and body, the aroma calms frayed nerves at the fag end of the day and the artifacts make the environment conducive for quiet contemplation, relaxation and peace. Myanmar is gradually discovering this beauty and witnessing its entry into the homes of its residents.