Myanmar’s Home Decor Trends

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.

Myanmar’s Best Wood Varieties – Teak and Beyond

For as long as I can remember, the mention of furniture and wood used for making it, inevitably included mention of “Burma teak”, with a bit of awe, reverence and a hint of exclusivity. Obviously, at even a tender, young age, I realized Burma teak was a cut above the rest. I had never dreamt that one day, I would be living in the land of Burma teak, see meters’ long logs of superior quality timber moving to borders and ports, to be exported to neighboring countries, see exquisitely carved wooden structures, many of gigantic proportions, and admire the distinctive grain of wood that add character to furniture adorning our homes.

Thankfully, as of 31st march 2014, timber logs can no longer be exported, and only export of value added wood products is permitted. The motive being, to encourage the growth and development of a wood processing industry, which will yield higher revenue, improve tax collections and offer employment opportunities to the locals. This will also prevent drastic climate change and soil degradation.  Hence, sawn wood, and finished food products can be exported. This is of course, limited to the legal export segment, the illegal export sector continues and smuggling of the finest quality timber is rampant, almost as much as before. The illegal export segment accounts for 75% of Myanmar’s timber trade and accounts for over $6 billion, as stated by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

It is rather sad, that natural national treasures weave their way into foreign lands, and some of the finest woods like padauk and tamalan, face the threat of being completely logged out in 3-13 years, according to current demand trends, if drastic measures are not taken to protect these top wood varieties. Both padauk and tamalan are no longer available in abundance. Even the grades and girths of teak are seen declining over the years.

Chinese imports of redwood and rosewood continue and most of the Tamalan and Padauk end up in China, making them endangered. Teak is not far behind, and experts are fearful of its supplies dwindling rapidly too. According to Global Witness Research, nearly the entire forest land along the China-Myanmar border has been completely logged out, and Chinese logging companies are moving further inland into Kachin state for sourcing timber, albeit at higher extraction costs.

The import ban imposed six months ago, should help, if government authorities implement it sincerely. Hopefully, the age of exploitation of Myanmar natural resources of wood especially, might just be nearing its end.

Myanmar offers some of the finest timber from natural forests, and the government is mulling over the idea of curtailing timber extraction. Teak plantations are expected to grow and expand in the coming years, unfortunately though, plantation teak is nowhere close to naturally grown teak, in terms of beauty, hardness, and durability.

Myanmar Wood Varieties

Myanmar’s forests covering 70% of the country’s land still, offering wood varieties like, teak, padauk, thinlwin, tamalan and many others. Both hardwoods and softwoods come from natural forests and plantations, the former being way superior to the latter.

  • Teak – Over two-thirds of the world’s teak resources lie in Myanmar, which remains the most forested country in the Greater Mekong Sub-Area. Teak is beyond doubt the most preferred wood for indoor furniture and outdoor use due to its inherent strength, while remaining light in weight. It has a naturally high oil content that makes it resistant to pests, does not rot and even holds up against the elements, bending but never breaking. Teak does not splinter and therefore does not need to be sealed. Its grains are distinctly straight, and occasionally interlocked. Teak is golden in color, tending towards brown, and darkens as it ages.

The trees grow nearly straight up to a height of 130 ft, and yield timber of three grades- A, B and C. Teak of A grade quality is representative of mature hardwood, that has been well seasoned besides coming from at least a 20-year old tree, and is of the highest quality, and therefore also the most expensive. A-grade teak shows grains that are closer since this quality comes from the most dense innermost section of the trunk, the color is golden and a hint of oil appears on touch. A harvested tree yields only a quarter of the total wood of A-grade quality and this partially explains its high price.

Grade-B teak is the less mature or immature heartwood forming the outer layer after the mature heartwood, but is enclosed inside the sapwood, that qualifies as C-grade teak. It is easy to differentiate with its less uniform grain, less oil and a duller appearance. This makes it cheaper as well.

Grade-C teak is called sapwood and forms the outer most layer of a harvested tree. It is the part of the tree that is still growing and carries nutrients to the rest of the tree. Its grains are further apart, and lack of a uniform color. It is neither as strong nor as resilient to the elements, and being inferior to the other grades, it is the cheapest type of teak.

The pros and cons of using teak for various purposes help in making the right choice.

  • Padauk – This reddish wood is simply exquisite to look and work with. It is one of the more decorative hardwoods and some of the finest padauk is found in Myanmar. The reddish tinge turns into a brown over time. Its highly visible grain is interlocked and its texture quite coarse. Found in Africa, Thailand and Myanmar mainly, its higher density makes it tougher to work with. Of all these Myanmar Padauk is the toughest and heaviest, and comes from the upper mixed and dry forests in the country. It is highly durable, decay resistant and long lasting.

Padauk trees resemble the elms, gaining a height of 120 ft and a girth up to 7 ft. They flourish in tropical climates in both rain forests and dry plains. The reddish tinge changes to maroon when exposed to sunlight. It is ideal for carving and crafting into interesting shapes even while remaining sturdy and durable.

Unfortunately, massive logging and exporting of Padauk has led to a dwindling supply of this premium wood in Myanmar. It is highly sought after in Hong Kong and China, where a considerable proportion is sent illegally. With the new ban on timber, it is hoped that the small amount left in the country can be preserved through restricted logging.

  • Tamalan – This is one variety of hardwood that one falls in love with, at first sight. It unique color and exquisite grain pattern is eye-catching, especially when seen in a hand crafted piece of furniture, polished to preserve its natural color and grain design. Belonging to the rosewood family, tamalan is an extremely high value wood variety, highly durable and resistant to the elements and termites. It is easily amenable to carving and ornamentation and its natural color adds to its beauty.

Tamalan grows in colder tropical regions and the Myanmar regions of “Mansi” and “Mankat” in the Sagaing Region, have the forest reserves where tamalan grows.

Tamalan, is nearly disappearing from Myanmar, the country that provides some of the best quality tamalan, due to huge demand from China where it is used for making the high premium, hongmu furniture. Experts believe that it may become extinct in less than three years due to the rate at which it is being logged and illegally exported.


The list of Myanmar wood varieties is long, but these three are by far the best, even as they face the threat of extinction in the next decade or so.