The way we live now, by Peter York: Full of eastern promise

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The Independent Online

China and India. That's all we talk about now. Policy wonks, economists, travel writers, haberdashery experts. And design people, of course. Brits have always had a soft spot for both - especially India - and lots of grandparental Brit money was made in one or other place. Lots of Brit attics still have 1906-ish Chinese and Indian tourist-trade stuff: some blue and white, a Benares brass tray.

And because we know they're both on the up, China making everything and India doing all the imaginative finance, we think more positively about their design (when the Japanese were fantastically on the up, smart Europeans and Americans fetishised their design too). We know about the Asian Tigers as well now. Thailand - backdrop for The Beach, staple of gap years and home to Ting Tong Macadangdang - and the other Tigers too, whatever they're called. So suddenly there's a blur of enterprising shops selling made-in-Asia design to us all over again.

The new market is for home furnishers who do a total Non-Specific Oriental look - a bit beachfront hotel, a bit colonial outstation. It's light, bright rooms with dark, dark furniture. It's four-posters with mosquito net curtains. It's unlikely things made out of dark woven matting, it's tatani mats and old lacquer, red or black. And, of course, oodles of bamboo. It's companies like Lombok - a brilliant marketing idea, invented by entrepreneurial Sloanes - and Compagnie Française des Indes.

This Non-Specific Oriental taste obviously contains ingredients from more than one country of origin, and from more than one century too. It includes real antiques, fake ones, and things clearly made yesterday in back-street Jakarta. But how can you tell? - a friend, who used to have fake Victoriana run up in Calcutta for the Portobello Road, said that the materials and techniques were so naturally 19th century - the right brass alloy for screws and so on - that sometimes even he couldn't tell. And there've been generations of American, Europeans, diplomats and media people doing the look too, so there's a whole grammar of it for charming ex-pat houses.

The comfortable-looking room pictured here could be, say, the penthouse in a Lowndes Square block owned by an American CEO whose last post was Director, Pan-Asia, based in Hong Kong. Forty years ago, an enterprising American called Jim Thompson pioneered Thai silk as curtains and cushions and (for the seriously rich) wall-coverings - and the world's Belgravias have loved it ever since. Don't know your Deccy Deco from your Mid-Century Modern? Unsure what makes a classic and what makes a cliche? Don't worry! Peter York will be answering your design dilemmas in a special issue of the Magazine on 22 September. E-mail questions to

This pair of 'console' tables between the windows, under pictures, positioned in the Belgravia manner, are actually in the antique Chinese style (whenever they were made). They're doing the job normally done by a pair of something English 19th century and demi-line.

Extremely comfortable, Occidental sofas - the Non-Specific Oriental design genius doesn't run to sofas.

Massive, ancient-looking pots (Temple? Burial? Imperial?), arranged centre-stage as ethnic art. They're something-dynasty as well.

The subtle shine of brown and blue raw silk, Thailand's gift to the world of interior design. Note the very symmetrical arrangement.

The coffee tables: one's black lacquer and the other pair are those NSO ones with the curved legs, the smarter SW3 answer to the Rajasthan table. The tchokes on them, the bits of lacquer and dark wood and silver, are all Orientalia.