Buddha Wallpaper: Is Holistic Design Turning Kitschy? [Open Exchange Magazine]

buddha-kitschBy Jaya Schillinger
Open Exchange Magazine, Summer 2006.

I’m in the process of buying a weekend retreat house and am completely obsessed with thoughts of interior design. As such, I’ve got stacks of magazines at hand so I can rip out pictures that inspire me. There’s a house in a woodsy resort area that I’m actually in negotiations to buy. It’s humble and needs some upgrades, but it’s got potential. The architecture is officially called a chalet-style home, and I’m thinking of bringing in some early 1970’s modernism. Most of the other homes in that area are 1920’s – 1940’s cottages and cabins (think lace curtains and knotty pine) or 1960’s arts & crafts style (think hippie folk art.) So while I want to work with the style of architecture in the home I’m buying, I also want some flair. My self-titled decorating theme is “chalet modern.” I could kick myself for giving away my Nelson bubble lamps a couple years ago.

Some of you may shudder to imagine that I actually want to bring in some 1970’s elements (if you’re old enough that you lived through them already.) But I was a kid through those years and didn’t get to actually choose how we decorated. Plus, we were poor, ever hoping to one day be middle-class. There wasn’t any actual design plan at our house. My family just bought whatever we could afford, and that was usually used or clearance basement stuff. We had ugly 1970’s furniture.

I’m not the only one wanting to explore 70’s style again…wallpaper is back in a BIG way. And I’m not just talking about the tasteful natural fiber kind. Big, bold, shiny retro wallpaper is in style again. Can photo murals be far behind? My realtor and friend JoEllen Ussery gets the heebie-jeebies from wallpaper and all things 70’s, but she humors me and quickly learned that I did not want to buy a grandma cabin with knotty pine and icky wall to wall carpeting.

So I was talking to my husband about the return of wallpaper, and he said that wallpaper with some “spiritual designs,” could be kind of nice. Gasp, sputter, “What the heck are you talking about? Do you mean Buddha wallpaper?” I asked. After I composed myself again, I realized what he was talking about. He likes the style of “holistic design” that we’ve got going in our house now (think Indonesian antiques and Buddhist thangkas.) It’s the look of almost every spa or wellness center we go to. It’s the look of every spiritual retreat center. It’s the look de jour at Pier One Imports (which I love) but also a look that you can now get at Target. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Target, but I don’t look to them as the purveyor of my spiritual enlightenment.

My prediction is that much of what is considered modern “holistic design,” is already on it’s way toward extinction. Those plastic feng shui desktop fountains have already gone the way of the lava lamp. (Maybe I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by the sound of those fountains!) Those ubiquitous stone Buddha statuettes are available in drug stores and flea markets. I think the look has run it’s course. If I were opening a new spa or wellness center today, I’d avoid that look like the plague because it’s going to look dated fast.

What’s next? I’m anticipatory of finding out. Holistic principals are still good. Sustainable architecture and green design are just starting to pick up momentum, and I predict prices for those things should be coming down so that people with average budgets can afford them. No aware person likes the forced choice of staying within budget, when knowing that more ecological options exist. What I’d like to see next are more affordable everyday products with beautiful design that also fit within my spiritual values in how they’re made and sold. I don’t need Buddha wallpaper to make me feel spiritual. That’s something we already are. Time to bring in something new!

My prediction for the future of holistic design is that we will continue to see natural elements such as stone, metal, water, and ecologically responsible woods, but that design trends will swing towards a comfortable modernism. The idea that the ancients knew more about spirituality than we do, and therefore we should have little Buddha reminders everywhere can feel contrived or even dogmatic to some people. I think that spare, modern environments with minimal furnishings can give people more “breathing room” to unwind. In a blank canvas of a space, the mood and tone are continually reinvented by the guests who are present. There will also be a trend towards livelier community spaces in spas and retreat centers, where it’s ok to be chatty or pull out your handheld and text message to your heart’s delight. Yes, there should still be a “quiet room,” available, but people in their 20’s and 30’s don’t find that relaxing. Unless you’re only wanting to serve baby-boomers, it would be wise to interview some younger people about what is attractive to them. Holistic values are about being inclusive, so taking that to the next level in interior design would mean having a space where anyone can feel comfortable and relax, not just the yogis.

© 2006 OPEN EXCHANGE P.O. Box 7880, Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 526-7190


About the Author

Jaya Savannah - Chief Inspiration Officer. Strategy Coach for Holistic Businesses. Trainer, speaker, and writer. Spiritually aware, yet street smart. Elephant lover.

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