It seems as if Buddha is watching from lots of places these days. Gold, stone, clay and even porcelain renderings of the spiritual symbol can be seen peering from bookcases, anchoring gardens and offering peace to dining rooms.
The prevalence of Buddha is one example of the steady influence of Asian interior design. ''With the world getting smaller, there is a global and intercultural influence that we find in music and the arts, and certainly in home decor,'' says Gil Williams, the owner of MacroSun International, an Asian decor boutique in St. Louis. ''The Indian and Chinese influences are growing in the world, and it is nice that those cultures and traditions are getting attention.''
It isn't only the global point of view. American companies that once produced furniture in the United States are moving production to China and Vietnam. According to the International Trade Administration, China imports accounted for nearly $12 billion in household furniture and accessories in 2005.
''Thirty or 40 years ago you were hard-pressed to find a lot of Asian decor,'' says Philip Hu, the associate curator for Asian art at the St. Louis Art Museum. ''Now, companies like ABC Carpet & Home, and Neiman Marcus, the online catalogs, and even the lower-end retailers like Ikea and Bed, Bath & Beyond are stocking a lot more Asian merchandise. People just have so many more visual reference points.''
Hu says Asian goods are especially affordable, but beauty is the main reason for the high interest in Asian aesthetic.
Modernists are often attracted to some styles of Asian design because of an emphasis on simplicity with platform beds, screens and a neutral color palette with splashes of red and gold. The straight lines and minimalism are essential contemporary decor.
''This kind of design clarifies the clutter,'' says Sunamita Lim, the author of ''Chinese Style: Living With Beauty and Prosperity'' (Gibbs Smith Publisher, $39.95, October). ''The influence is from Japan, where space is at a premium. It's a style that forces you to edit.''
Traditionalists, however, may be more attracted to chinoiserie style, featuring furniture with graceful cabriole legs and claw feet, hand-painted cabinetry with black lacquered finishes, or china patterns with real and interpreted scenes of Asian countryside.
''A touch of the Orient is a touch of the exotic,'' Lim says. ''Even George and Martha Washington recognized the beauty of Chinese blue and white pottery and had pieces of it at Mount Vernon.''
Because of common materials such as bamboo and silk, goods from different Asian countries can be used together. Tapestries from India work well with headboards from Korea, which can be accented by celadon pottery from Thailand, then anchored by an Angi mountain rug from China.
But Asian furniture and accessories shouldn't be arranged capriciously. Feng shui guides that became popular in the mid-'90s have mainstreamed the ancient concept of qi (pronounced chee), the positive and negative energy moving throughout living space. Though some design professionals argue that feng shui is just common sense, Lim says placement that maximizes positive energy is paramount in Asian design.
''When you have negative energy flowing through your surroundings, you are chasing away peace and prosperity, which will adversely affect your life,'' she says. To keep a sense of balance, Lim says, every home needs an ''area of connection.''Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times