Feb 8, 2019 in Art

Ancient Chinese Interior Architecture

The ancient Chinese interior design was based on three ideas: structure, function, and decoration. The design of any interior setting of a building or room was determined by its specific function. In reference to the purpose intended for the room, certain decorations patterns were followed. The structure of almost all Chinese buildings was similar. The interior design of Chinese houses was mainly decorated by the wood work, which could have stone carvings. The structure of these houses was relatively small, with small rooms partitioned without being emphasized by the walls. The walls only served for partitioning. The structure was uniform for almost all forms of houses, regardless of their function. Chinese designers took into considerations the seasons of the year, incorporating structures that would adapt to the seasons. Therefore, Chines interior design was not permanent in many ways. There were some features in the structure that would change as seasons changed. Chinese designers put emphasis on furniture arrangement in the buildings, which was part of the architecture of the ancient Chinese design. Above all, decoration was key in the ancient Chinese interior architecture. Decoration was chosen in proportion to the size of the building, the season, or timing and the function. There were various things that could be used for decoration in the ancient Chinese interior. These ancient Chinese traditions existed for many years, contributing to the modern interior ideas. As now western designs are the most common, the ancient Chinese interior design is still influencing some bits of the western designs. Currently, most buildings are constructed in a combination of the western architecture, which suits the high demands for modern housing, and the Chinese interior architecture, which makes the buildings look attractive. This essay will look into the nature of the ancient Chinese interior design and the way it influencing modern interior architecture.  

Chinese architecture is a unique form of designing and construction, which has been preserved and practiced for many years. The modern architecture of China draws features from the ancient traditions, since the Chinese people have a way of preserving the old customs considering them valuable. The ancient structures were simple but beautiful and expensive. They were designed to last. The emperors are known to have hired or forced experts to construct the finest buildings. Records reveal that there were architectural drawings of two-dimensional buildings that date back to the first millennium. 

In the mid-Neolithic era, the walls of buildings were constructed using bricks and rammed earth. This technology was very common, and the constructors worked on houses using this approach. Since this era, earth layers have been pounded to construct alters, walls, as well as foundations. The Chinese people built houses in this manner for the following several millennia.

The interior decorations were done emphasizing the natural beauty of the housing area. The walls were painted by the Chinese artists, who had a wide understanding of the subject. The paintings were those of the emperors’ portraits, clouds, mountains, seas, trees, rivers, famous personalities, etc. It is known that the Chinese are very creative. The rich people had to make their houses look original. The specialists would paint the houses with various colors, such as red that depicted royalty. The furniture in the rooms also had to show that the owner loved natural beauty. Some were even known to have their entire family pictures painted in the inside sections of the houses’ walls. Animal pictures, like lions, tigers, antelopes and giraffes, were also widely used in decoration. Sea shells, stone, and wood carvings were placed on tables inside the houses. The houses had ceilings that also demonstrated love for natural beauty. Stone patterns were used in these decorations. There was a wide range of stone patterns from which builders could choose. There were also stone portal decorations that were extracted from real stones to make the interior even more attractive. Dragon pictures were also common, especially in the monks’ houses. Dragons were considered some of the greatest creatures in the ancient China. Having their pictures on the walls was of high value.

Another feature that was applied in sphere of Chinese interior design was wooden architecture. The finest hardwood was selected to create beautiful interior designs. The timber was smoothened and then interlocked to establish an interior design that had an attractive and expensive look. Rich families had their houses furnished and decorated using wood painted in various colors. There were many classes of wood used depending on the financial ability of the owner. The way the architects placed the wood in position remains a mystery. What is definite is that the work was always done in the most perfect way. In the ancient times the wooden walls defined the enclosure. There were instances when construction was done using other materials, such as bricks, and then timber was placed as a decoration on top of the main material. Other buildings were made of pure wood, and then the inside was covered by the special kind of glowing decorating wood.

In general, the ancient Chinese design had a bilateral symmetric form. The symmetrical form was most noticeable in the interior design, but it also included some additional aspects. The arrangement of furniture, décor, and colors in the rooms usually had a symmetrical shape. In the cases when the living room had two bed-couches, they were arranged symmetrically on each side of the table. The flowers on the table were also arranged in the symmetrical manner. In the bedroom, where there were normally two bed-couches, two stools and a lantern, the arrangement was symmetrical as well. Paintings on the wall were also proportionate. The perfect arrangement of all design related to the aspects of balance and symmetry.

 
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When designing any room in the house, the designers had in mind the intended function of the room. The function of the room determined its size and future look. While designing the interior of the room, the professionals considered the function and incorporated the bilateral symmetric idea. Therefore, each room took a shape that would allow bilateral symmetric arrangement of the items designed for its function. The function also dictated the furniture that would be put in the room, as well as the paintings on the walls and other aspects of interior design. The function of the room was the sole determinant of its size, shape and appearance. The paintings in the living room were different from those in the bedroom, since they were intended for different purposes.

The ancient Chinese interior architecture majored in little rooms, with a living room being the most magnificent. Other rooms were considerably small and the hallway was narrow. The hallway had only a single painting or script, while all the other rooms had more. When a small room is crowded with decorations, it seems unproportionate. Bedrooms, which were considerably small, had no noticeable décor. The living room could have two scrolls hanging on the wall, but not opposite the each other. Hanging scrolls opposite to each other did not appear as a proper arrangement. The living room could have more than two scrolls. The study room could have one or two scrolls or pieces of décor, but not more. In most cases, small rooms in the ancient Chinese design did not contain any décor. The carving of Buddha, which was not considered as a decoration, could sometimes be found in a small room. In most cases, the carving or painting of Buddha was found in the living room. Small rooms only contained a few pieces of furniture, designed in line with the function of the room. The décor of small rooms seemed to be out of proportion.

The ancient Chinese architecture emphasized the minimal use of furniture. Furniture is one of the most important aspects of the room design. If a lot of furniture is applied throughout the room, it looks very detailed. In the Chinese interior design, the minimum possible furniture was a priority. The living room had just one table with few a chairs and a bed-couch. At times it could have a cabinet, but mostly cabinets were arranged in the study rooms. Even in the study room, too many book racks or cabinets resembled a public study place. Therefore, the study room contained a reading table, several chairs, and a cabinet with neatly arranged books. Instead of using a lot of furniture and detail, ancient Chinese designers emphasized a proper quality arrangement, which would make the room adhere to the standards. The small size of the furniture in the ancient Chinese design is attributable to the small size of the houses. However, the small size of the rooms was not intended for small furniture. The idea behind little furniture was quality instead of quantity. The ancient Chinese interior designer stressed the quality of the furniture and its arrangement, rather than the number of its pieces. 

The ancient Chinese interior decoration took into consideration seasons of the year. Decorations in the house were changed according to the time of the year. For winter, the windows had curtains made of bamboo, which was not the case for the summer. During summer, the curtains were made of cloth. The decorations in the living room were made of bronze during the summer, while during winter such decorations were put in storage, allowing ceramic decorations to be used. Flowers were mostly present during the summer with the proper floral arrangement. The flower bouquet was composed of one or two types of flowers. The flowers would change according to the seasons. In addition, some of the decorations were rooted in religious beliefs. Such decorations would change with the altering of religious seasons. The incense burner and the incense powder box were also used as decorations on the table seasonally. During winter they were used more than during the summer to supplement the lacking flower decorations. However, some decorations were permanent, since they were believed to have supernatural powers and to bring good fortune to the house. Such decorations were never removed regardless of season (Knapp 176). Such decorations were the god of the doorway, as well as bats and some fruit. Therefore, seasons were an important consideration in the ancient Chinese architecture.

In the ancient Chinese interior design, tables were adorned with flowers and incense burners. The use of flowers, incense burners and box of incense was an important detail of the Chinese interior décor. However, the table in the living room was not complete with them. The flowers were kept at a safe distance from the burner, since the smoke could affect the flowers. They added to the clamor of the house, while the box of incense powder and the incense burner ensured that a sweet fragrance filled the room. The flowers adorning the table were fresh, which gave the living room a natural touch (Steinhardt 246). 

The ancient Chinese interior design was made of wood framework, and modern designers have borrowed from this idea considerably. Modern houses have walls painted to appear as if they are made of wood. Brick walls are plastered and then painted using high art painting skills to appear as if they are made of plywood or normal wood. This wood framework has also been incorporated into some buildings. The walls get tiled with tiles that resemble wooden material. The appearance reminding of woodwork idea is an inclination towards natural beauty. Wood is one of the oldest materials used in construction. Modifying other materials to resemble wooden work comes from the ancient Chinese ideas of architecture (Weston 319).

Modern interior designs depict less furniture, the same way ancient Chinese interior architecture emphasized the use of less furniture. Arranging a few appropriate furniture parts in the right place gives a house and its rooms an attractive look, as opposed to the crowded look. The Chinese living room was furnished with a bed-couch, a table, and a few chairs. Modern living rooms are furnished with a set of sofas around a coffee table. There is a cabinet by the wall that matches the rest of the furniture. In some houses, the living room may have a dining table at one corner of the room. Modern rooms are spacious, as opposed to the ancient Chinese rooms, making it possible for modern rooms to accommodate more furniture. Even if it accommodates more furniture, it is still less referenced to the size of the room. Modern interior designs are asymmetrical, opposed to the ancient Chinese design, which was symmetrical. The Chinese bedroom had one or two bed-couches, a clothes-rack, two low tools, a table and a lantern. A modern bed room has one big bed, a wardrobe - either inbuilt into the wall of the house or separate, a dressing table, and a mirror. These few pieces of furniture ensure that the bedroom is not crowded and that it maintains a calm space for people to sleep in.

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In modern designs, the walls of most houses have paintings that are theme-based, with creative images of nature. In the ancient Chinese interior architecture, walls were painted using high art skills in order to bring out the natural beauty of the skies, or clouds, or other natural features. Similarly, in modern designs, even though new painting features are in place, the paintings on the walls may be of the ocean, the sky, or other natural beauties. Plain walls are painted to take the forms of ocean waves, which relates to the themes that used to be painted in the ancient Chinese design. In addition, the decoration of modern houses goes in line with the pictures on the wall, reinforcing the same theme. Similarly, in the ancient Chinese interior design, the decorations in the house or room coincided with the main idea behind the art work. Similarly to the ancient Chinese interior architecture, sitting room walls carry most of the decorations in terms of paintings and carvings, while other rooms have very little or no pictures. 

The decorations in modern rooms and houses result from the intended purpose or function of the room. In line with ancient Chinese interior architectures, modern design also emphasizes on the application of decorations in line with the intended function of the house or building. Similarly to the ancient Chinese interior architecture, modern houses are also decorated depending on the purpose of the room. Living rooms contain lively decorations, flowers, curtains, carvings, and other things that depict life. The decorations are not congested, but there are relatively more of them in the sitting room than in other rooms in the house. In the bed room, the decorations are minimal or none at all. In most cases, the bedroom is supposed to depict a calm environment, where one can sleep soundly. Too much decoration in the bedroom could translate into the distracting noise preventing calm sleep. The kitchen has completely no decorations, since there is serenity expected in this place. In the ancient Chinese design, kitchens were not decorated as well (Xujie 55).

The use of flowers and perfumes to keep the living room in good condition are ideas borrowed from the ancient Chinese interior design. In modern approaches, fresh flowers or industry manufactured flowers are used. In the place of incense burner and box of incense powder, modern design uses perfumers and aerosols to keep the pleasant fragrance. However, the sweet fragrance in modern designs is not an adornment of the living room table. The perfume is kept on the wall or in a cabinet, and then switched on or sprayed when needed.

The modern architecture is borrowing some ideas from the ancient Chinese interior designs and improving them to give birth to new ideas. The incorporation of aquariums in the walls, floors or windows of houses is an idea borrowed from the ancient Chinese interior architecture, which has been improved tremendously. The Chinese obsession with natural beauty gave birth to the idea of an aquarium to add clamor to the interior of the house. Chinese designers employed features that were in existence, like carvings and paints on canvas, to add clamor to the houses. Modern designers are improving the use of the Chinese designers’ ideas in the contemporary setting (Xujie 55). 

In conclusion, the ancient Chinese interior architecture is one of its kind. After being in practice for many years in the east, it is spreading fast to other parts of the world. Currently, the aspects of the ancient Chinese interior design are applied in other regions as well as. Regardless of the current demand for housing, which dictates the use of the western design, the ancient Chinese interior design is remaining extremely popular (Steinhardt 234). The Chinese exterior design emphasized width rather than length, hence it could not fit in the current global demand for housing. The western design, which emphasizes length and depth rather than width, is appropriate and used today. Along with these western approaches, the early Chinese interior is overshadowing the way the inside of the houses looks. The most elegant houses or those of the middle-class occupants depict some themes in line with the ancient Chinese interior. The fixtures and fittings, as well as furniture in modern designed houses, the decorations on the walls also borrow a lot from the ancient Chinese design. Most walls in modern houses have works of art depicting natural beauty. The idea of painted walls to depict natural beauty has its origin in the ancient Chinese design. Although modern designs focus little on pictures and scripts hanging on the walls, there are many other features that relate directly to the Chinese interior design. As time passes, new ways of decorating are becoming common. However, the early Chinese interior architecture continues to be influential and robust. There is no other building technology that has been practiced for such a long time. Most designs lost their impact quickly, but the Chinese interior design remains relevant throughout the centuries. 

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