There are examples of mahjong being used as the thematic element in interiors for various reasons. It may be used to express the functions of a space, like a mahjong room or a mahjong club. Some may use mahjong as icons to add some Chinese favour or to give a taste of pop culture to a space. Some may use mahjong to enrich a space with its colours and graphics. Others may borrow its world-famous name to brand their own brands so that they become instantly memorable and approachable. In this episode, I will show some of these examples and share some of my personal experience as an architect in interior design.
Roughly I will put interior designs into two categories. The first type are those that are more architectural and play with building elements like the enclosure and openings to floor, wall and ceiling, circulation elements like staircases and ramps, and the most important, a play of light and shadow with different light sources integrated with the envelop and opening such as windows and skylights. The second type is more as décor to existing spaces in which designers may not be able to alter the enclosure but put their design effort more on elements like ambience and style, colour and fabric, furniture and fittings, artworks and decors.
Being a well-known game, mahjong inevitably becomes visual icons in a space if they are applied on a bigger scale. As a three-dimensional object, its modular size, standard proportion and tectonic form, it can serve as seats, tops and stands. When they are stuffed in soft fabric, they become pillows and cushions. When they are in-planted with light, they become light fittings at different scales.
Images of mahjong can be turned into artworks to be hung on walls or into rugs to be laid on the floor. In a more subtle way, mahjong and its elements may become visual components of a bigger pattern.
Apart from these direct visual applications, taking advantage of its market availability and its modular size, real mahjong tiles have been used for mosaics to create feature walls or even signs and graphics.
Whichever way mahjong is used, it easily becomes the visual focus of a space due to its strong signature colours and graphic, and its semiotic meaning to people. In placing these iconic elements, from my experience, we need to pay special attention to a few factors:
One, place the icons at where we want to celebrate and avoid where we want to hide.
Every space has its characters and constraints. As a designer, it is our duty to celebrate its advantages and disguise its shortcomings. Strong visual icons will draw people’s attention to it. Imagine you have a very low ceiling, hanging it from the ceiling will remind us the ceiling is so low.
Second, use it at the right scale.
We often guess the size of a space through objects of known sizes. Putting an oversized furniture and items in a space will make a space look small and cramped. On the other hand, we sometimes use smaller-than-normal size objects to create an illusion of the space being bigger.
Three, strike a good balance of the features and background.
When we want something to be seen as a feature, it needs a good background to contrast with it. The stronger the feature, the bigger spaces are required. A sculpture will no longer be a sculpture if it comes in a cluster. It is the context and space that makes something an art. That is why a mess can be called an art in a museum when it is placed as the centrepiece of a big empty space.
Four, in many cases, design comes down to subtraction than to addition. I guess many people have the experience of indecision in designing their own interiors and get overwhelmed by the available choices of styles, furniture, patterns, etc. As explained earlier, one cannot be too greedy and know how to play down the remaining so that a few key features can be celebrated.
Five, remember the edges. As an animal instinct, our eyes are drawn to changes. We look at where colour changes. That is why for someone with a big belly, he should not wear two pieces in different colours that bring our eyes to see the waistline. In a similar way, we let a continuity of floor under a piece of furniture raised by legs. It is also the reason, free standing items in a space easily become the visual focus and worth special attention and investment.
Six, the trendier a piece is, the easier it will look dated. If something is meant to last, do not pick the most fashionable items, pick something what we call “classic” that has stood the test of time.
I guess I am squeezing too much into this short episode about mahjong. Maybe, sometimes I should create a separate channel to share my knowledge and experience in design that I gained through years of practice and my Ph D.