Way out east

Asian cool isn't just the hottest new trend on the club scene, it's the latest thing in interior design, too. Cayte Williams explains why there should be a little bit of the East in every style-concious home
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Indy Lifestyle Online
From Jemima Khan's flowing eastern robes to DJ Talvin Singh's ultra-trendy nights at the Blue Note, Asian style is the hottest thing since sliced nan. Even Pushca, clubland's coolest promoters, are hosting a Bindi night at the Ministry of Sound next week, where guests have to dress up in saris. Suddenly, all things eastern are hotter than a chicken vindaloo.

It's no surprise, then, that Asian style is pervading interior design. But we're not talking ethno-hippy here, more modern Asian, where contemporary design meets eastern artifacts. Even the most minimalist of homes could do with some saffron and ochre silk cushion covers, a Hindu deity statue or two and a smattering of beaded curtains - all of which have a place at commercials director Camilla Arthur's house in north-west London.

As soon as you walk through the front door the Asian influence hits you. A huge wooden sculpture of Ganesha, the elephant god of wealth and good luck, greets you on one side, while a Forties photo of an Indian bride and groom smiles at you on the other. In front are two ornate, Indian- inspired, carved doors which Camilla designed herself. The modern touch is the use of colours - in contemporary shades of helium and powder blue.

The dark hallway, with its stained-glass window, is a shrine to all things Indian, but with a modern slant. "I do naturally lean towards Asian ethnic things," Camilla explains, "but I had too much stuff to scatter throughout the house, so I made them a feature in the hallway. I've put black and white photographic prints on the walls [including two of her model friend, Kate Moss] to give it a more modern edge. Ethnic pictures would be too much." As a result, a Tom Dixon star lightshade shines down on a statuette of Hindu god Shiva. A myriad of mirrored and tapestry Indian cushions nestle on an Indian children's bed. "I got that from a furniture shop in Willesden Green," she laughs. "This little old man said to me, 'I've got some second-hand things at the back, you don't want those.' I'm glad I didn't believe him!"

Camilla has worked with photographers Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon and Michael Roberts, and her eye for a dramatic set has followed her home. The room pictured above is her "Leopard Room", where silk, chiffon, hand- made curtains rub hems with fake-fur animal prints and expensive David Wainwright items sit alongside bargains from Delhi markets. Strings of fairy lights beaming through the chiffon add Pierre et Gilles glamour. "I've collected things over the past 17 years or so," she says. "If I go away, I make a point of bringing something back. I have always found India exciting and mysterious and I couldn't wait to get out there. I get my pieces from either India, Thailand or Portobello - in little places along Golborne Road.

"I bought the Rajasthan mirrored wall-hanging from a Delhi street for 1p. This room is stuffed full of Asian stuff because I like the exotic. There's something very extravagant in the ornate metalwork and colours. Look at the effort that has gone into that!" She points to a wooden table with a Jali top, a type of intricate, metal lattice-work.

The kitchen is a Bollywood version of the US sitcom Bewitched. Its mainly Fifties influence is peppered with half-hidden, tiny Hindu icons. Camilla plays host to London coolsters Rachel Williams, Liam, Patsy, Noel and Meg, who've all eaten at the 16-seater dining table in the kitchen. Above them, a huge canvas by the New York graffiti artist Sharp picks out colours on the Indian beaded curtains leading out to the garden.

So, where can you find the new Asian cool? London's Goodge Street has two great shops where you'll find smaller items which will bring your home up to date. "So many fashionable people come in here now," says Anjay Gupta, owner of Jaipur Designs, a family business which deals in one-off designs, "and a lot of our stock will work in a modern home. The most popular things are cotton duvet covers, which are block-printed in a traditional design but with a new flowery, geometrical edge." These cost from pounds 25 for a single cover plus a pillow case.

"When I go abroad, I keep an eye on fashion, which I never used to do," he explains. "The market is more sophisticated now, people know where things are from." Mirrored and embroidered cushion covers from Gujarat, in north-west India, cost pounds 8.99 while Banjara - meaning nomad - wall-hangings are pounds 13.99 upwards. Their one-off designs in shells, mirrors, thread, patchwork are becoming rarer as the craft dies out. Banjara is unique and you will find that most of the textiles come from Pushka and Rajasthan.

Nice Irma's first shop opened in 1972 as a hippy emporium but it has moved with the times. Now you'll find gold-flecked voile (pounds 6.15 a metre) alongside contemporary kitchenware, white organdie cushion covers for pounds 10.80 and a few sale-bargain Indian rugs, from pounds 9.99. And for those on a serious budget, try the sari centres in Wembley, Southall and Brick Lane.

According to Dominic Capon, designer and buyer for David Wainwright, modern Asian is the way forward. "Harrods and Peter Jones are now selling tables that we did several years ago, and the import business has exploded all over the world," he explains. "Asian things are much more accessible now. There should be a little bit of the east in people's homes." At Wainwright shops you can pick up salvaged brass soap dishes from pounds 9 to old Indian "day bed" dining tables from pounds 800.

David Wainwright, 251 Portobello Rd, London W11, 0171 792 1988, 28 Rosslyn Hill, London NW3, 0171 431 5900, and 63 Portobello Rd, London W11, 0171 727 0707. Nice Irmas, 46 Goodge St, London W1, 0171 580 6921. Jaipur Designs, 13 Goodge St, London W1, 0171 636 5560.

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