Traditional Chinese interior design is typically characterized by lacquered surfaces, natural elements such as bamboo and stone, and a red, gold, and black color palette. But a new generation aims to revolutionize the industry, transforming the classical into the contemporary. Brimming with talent and creativity, these Chinese interior designers are determined to leave their mark, setting trends that could fuel innovation in the industry. And they couldn’t have come at a better time, with the country experiencing a design boom. In 2018, China’s home decoration and furniture market was worth an estimated $740 billion.
Here are four interior design trends shaping modern China, along with the brands and interior designers leading the way.
1. East meets West: A fusion of local and international
The rising demand for future-forward, western-style furniture in China is fueling the trend of combining local with international design. This is visible in Chinese furniture retailer ZaoZuo‘s products: a mix of locally manufactured pieces and internationally designed items.
ZaoZuo, which started as an online-only shop selling high-quality minimalist furniture, has since expanded from digital to physical, opening a flagship store in Beijing and another brick-and-mortar showroom in Shanghai. In true East meets West fashion, ZaoZuo’s founder Shu Wei chose Italian designer Luca Nichetto as the company’s creative director.
ZaoZuo’s designs include cobblestone sofas from Swedish design studio Form Us With Love, butterfly-inspired tea tables and side tables from French designer Constance Guisset, and grid shelves from German designers Sarah and Henrik Bottger, among many others.
In a similar vein, Shanghai-based furniture brand Stellar Works is bridging the gap between East and West, featuring pieces from renowned international designers. The brand offers wooden chairs crafted in the hybrid Asian and Western style from Japanese designer Shuwa Tei, a furniture collection inspired by Chinese moon goddess Chang’e from Danish design studio Space Copenhagen, and Ran Library, a bookcase with a powder-coated steel frame, veneer-laminated shelves, and a silhouette that mirrors temple doors in China from Italian designer Carlo Forcolini.
2. New Chinese: A blend of old and new
Despite embracing Western influences, China continues to acknowledge its rich heritage. But today’s designers are adding a more modern touch, merging the old with the new.
This New Chinese style is epitomized in the work of Shanghai-based practice Neri&Hu, founded by architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu in 2004. As creative directors of Stellar Works, Neri&Hu’s designs include wooden stacking chairs and aluminum tables that combine China’s historic decorative arts with modern form and function, contemporary ceramic pieces inspired by historic artifacts from the Arita Ceramic Museum, and a line of cabinets resembling those given as dowry in Chinese culture. Instead of having ornate carvings and etchings, Neri&Hu’s cabinets are simple and clean, employing traditional detailing and joinery techniques.
Another design studio taking on the New Chinese style is Sozen, founded by Jun Jie Zhang in 2011. The studio incorporates traditional crafting techniques into contemporary design, as seen in its bamboo-woven products, including its latest collection, lamp shades woven from bamboo. Zhang created digital models of the lamp shades’ irregular shapes and curved patterns, then brought them to life using traditional Chinese bamboo-weaving techniques.
3. Interior doors: From lavish to low-key
In classic Chinese architecture, doors are a work of art. Typically made of wood, they come in deep shades of brown and are adorned with intricate latticework and ornate carvings. Folding screens made from wooden panels decorated with art are also used to partition rooms.
Doors in today’s Chinese homes take on a more modern look. They’re simple and sleek, with lighter, more muted tones and clean, straight lines. Some door panels still have latticework, but they’re more understated than their classic counterparts. Sliding and folding doors come in glass with veneer or lacquered frames to resemble traditional folding screens.
4. Sustainability in interiors: From trash to treasure
Turning trash into treasure is at the forefront of Chinese studio Bentu’s designs. In 2017, the firm unveiled its Terrazzo Collection, which it described as “a material regeneration experiment using wasted tiles to make terrazzo.” Crafted out of crushed leftover ceramic tiles, the collection consists of furniture and lighting pieces—from long benches and round tables to circular wall lamps and pendant lights resembling flying saucers.
Another one of Bentu’s collections, the Wreck furniture range, was made from recycled ceramic waste, mixing concrete with ceramic shards to give it an industrial finish. Pieces from the collection include benches, stools, and tables.
Similarly, Chinese studio Lewu uses abandoned furniture as the base of its designs. Drawing inspiration from the textures and forms of coral and moss, Lewu covered second-hand furniture in silicone foam to create its latest collection of tables, chairs, and stools.
These trends reflect the changing nature of China’s interior design market: rooted in tradition but shifting toward a more modern and innovative design future.