Boston Globe Bamboo Article

Bamboo the hot material in home design.

By Pamela Sherrod, Chicago Tribune, 1/16/2003

It takes the average human about 51/2 years to grow to 4 feet. It takes some forms of bamboo just one day.

Compared with woody plants, the growth rate of this reedy grass is unmatched and, these days, you could say the same for its popularity among home-furnishing designers. Bamboo is in the house, just about everywhere.

It's real and faux. Sometimes it's bamboo, the material, sometimes bamboo, the shape. It is turning up in wall coverings, flooring, furniture, and decorative accessories such as baskets and bedding.

Why bamboo? Why now?

Largely, the bamboo boom is due to the allure of the Asian aesthetic, particularly its simplicity, which has been growing continuously for the last 10 years. It also can be attributed to a yearning for the things bamboo has symbolized in Eastern cultures for centuries: strength, resiliency, flexibility, longevity, good luck. The durability and renewability of the plant (it's actually a grass that grows faster and requires less land than trees) also makes it an attractive and eco-friendly alternative to more traditional wood choices.

People like the idea of having renewable natural resources around them, says Terri Erdos, vice president of Jamson Whyte's US operations, which offers bamboo designs for bedroom, living room, and dining room. ''More people are focusing on the home and focusing on those things that are natural.''

The 10-year-old Singapore-based Jamson Whyte, which has a store in New York and a Web site (, is known for designs featuring Indonesian and Balinese bamboos. One of its most attractive is a sleigh bed that combines teak and bamboo ($1,600 to $2,000). The warm golden brown in the teak and the pecan shading in the bamboo provide a light but solid feel to the design.

''I think bamboo also gives people the feeling that they can be someplace else within their home by creating another world there for themselves,'' Erdos says.

Still, it's the concern for the environment - hers and her customers' - that drives Bonnie Trust Dahan to include bamboo designs in her Pure Seasons mail-order catalog and Web site ( Dahan's Sausalito, Calif.-based company, which features natural products for the home, found interest in bamboo was greater than expected when the catalog was introduced in the spring. Because of the demand, Pure Seasons added more bamboo designs for the kitchen, bedroom, child's room, and floors.

Bamboo is ''less formal and more adaptable'' than other woods, says Dahan. ''When bamboo is cut correctly, it has a satin sheen to it that you don't get in other woods.''

The reedy grass with tensile strength is found throughout Asia.

''It's been used for centuries in Asian cultures, and it has been used for everything,'' says Stanley Murashige, who teaches art history and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He says it's found in furniture, construction, basketry, musical instruments, paper, kitchen tools, dinnerware - even food.

It also has its place in the arts, in paintings and poetry. ''It has long been appreciated for the beauty of its shape and for the extraordinary varieties that it comes in,'' says Murashige, who is third-generation Chinese- and Japanese-American.

''Bamboo as a metaphor began in China,'' Murashige says. ''It is also a metaphor in Korea and Japan.'' In the Philippines, it recently was chosen as a symbol of peace and unity by two warring groups in Mindanao because it reflected, as one religious figure put it, the Filipino character: ''resistant, resilient, enduring, loving, gentle, peaceful...''

''It does have some cliche symbols and meanings that have personal association, such as being resilient because it bends under the force of winds,'' Murashige says. ''This becomes a metaphor for someone's virtue, which remains steady under an onslaught.''

Because bamboo is evergreen, it also suggests longevity. Bamboo is also hollow inside, and Murashige says ''that emptiness becomes a metaphor for a being that is empty, unbiased, and unprejudiced, seeing all possibilities in all situations.''

Murashige, however, is drawn to bamboo simply because of its beauty. ''It's something nice to have,'' he says.

''Even if it is not actually bamboo, people like the look and the patterns,'' says Ingrid Koepcke, decor specialist at EXPO Design Center in Chicago. EXPO (with Boston-area centers in Braintree and Burlington) has a collection of bamboo designs that include furniture ($30 to $100) and wall coverings made by Imperial, Thibaut, and Seabrook.

Designers have responded not only by featuring this relatively new ''wood'' source but also by borrowing bamboo's silhouette for textiles, detailing in furniture, and accessories, such as door handles and vases.

The lookalike bamboo styles in desks, tables, and chairs have reed-shaped legs that are sometimes the same natural shade as real bamboo and sometimes in a black or red lacquered finish. In vases, styles come in glass and ceramic, with the shape being true to the look of bamboo.

Bamboo patterns show up in upholstery and wall coverings, where the patterns and texture feel and look like the real thing.

''The look is simple, but still sophisticated and relaxing,'' says Koepcke. That's just what people want today.

This story ran on page H9 of the Boston Globe on 1/16/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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