NEW YORK – Ryan Korban may be known as the go-to interior designer for the downtown cool set, with clients such as Alexander Wang, James Franco and Jessica Stam, but his sleek minimalist aesthetic leaves plenty of room for more traditional styles – including classic Asian design. "My work is always a mix of contemporary and historical pieces," he says. "It’s about integrating these rich, collectible antiques into modern homes to give them a new life." Below, Korban shares his tips for finding the right balance between the old and the new, what he loves most about Asian design and the furniture he's eyeing in Sotheby's upcoming Asia Week auctions.
PHOTO: RYAN KORBAN
How can you incorporate traditional pieces of Asian design and art into a contemporary room?
Number one, you have to find pieces that you feel connected to and that embellish your natural style. It’s also about knowing how to edit so the traditional objects feel modern and don’t overwhelm the space. I usually do that by keeping the heart of the room contemporary and placing antiques around as accents.
How do you know when you strike the right balance?
There are times when I’ve tried “more is more” and that never feels as successful or well thought-out. If the room is a fifty-fifty split between contemporary and traditional furniture, I find that confusing – it’s like your taste is split in half. For me, a beautiful, contemporary room with antiques sprinkled throughout is just enough of both worlds. That’s when I get the most positive feedback.
Are some Asian antiques easier to integrate? What do you look for?
Absolutely – it’s all about the finish and colour. I’m always on the hunt for lacquer, gold leaf, silver leaf, brass – and Asian design has a lot of that. Those materials look really modern and can easily be mixed in with contemporary furniture. Ming dynasty furniture especially, which tends to have metal accents, seamlessly slides right in.
What are some other Asian pieces you like to incorporate in your interiors?
I’m a big fan of screens and bronze sculptures. Porcelain is also great, whether it’s plates or mixing black lacquer pedestals with classic vases. That sort of contrast feels sexy and sleek. I’ve always been a big believer in accessories. They set your home apart from everyone else's. They give you an opportunity to own something unique.
Below, a few of Korban's top lots featured in Sotheby's upcoming Asia Week auctions.
A HUANGHUALI MIRROR STAND (WUPINGFENGSHI JINGTAI)
QING DYNASTY. ESTIMATE $25,000–35,000.
"The details found in objects from the Qing dynasty are unparalleled. They truly evoke emotion."
A PAIR OF RARE HUANGHUALI ROUND-CORNER TAPERING CABINETS WITH LATTICEWORK (GUI)
QING DYNASTY. ESTIMATE $300,000–500,000.
"I am a symmetry snob, so whenever I find an amazing 'pair' of anything it's a big find. A pair of cabinets or armoires is the ultimate score."
A RARE AND IMPORTANT IMPERIAL GILT-BRONZE RITUAL BELL (BIANZHONG)
KANGXI MARK AND PERIOD. ESTIMATE $200,000–300,000.
"Gilt and bronze are two of my favourite materials. They are strong, rare and feel completely handmade. This stunning ritual bell is no exception."