Roger Chen shares the stories behind the artefacts he’s collected over the 25 years of his globetrotting career as a diplomat

SEP 4, 2018 | By Sonia Dutt and Roger Chen
Against the living room's military green colour scheme are a pillar with carvings found in Gujarat, an alabaster Buddha statuette from Burma and a ceiling fixture from the Khan el-Khalili souk in Cairo. The coffee table, armchair and fur cubes are some of Roger Chen's custom designs, fabricated in Beijing and New Delhi; Photographs by Amit Mehra
The carriage-like elm bed from Ningbo, China, was discovered while shopping in Shanghai in the late 1990s. On one side is a rare Chinese art deco chair with a rattan seat; Photographs by Amit Mehra
The master bedroom features table and floor lamps fashioned out of old Egyptian sheesha pipes, a wood-cut print titled College Road by Chennai artist Vijay Pichumani, statues that are Khmer-style reproductions, and a Bhutanese prayer mask of a deer atop a Ming Chinese elm cabinet; Photographs by Amit Mehra
The guest bedroom houses a Chinese canopy bed with exquisite carved panels, latticework and traditional motifs, including palace scenes with maidens and floral carvings; Photographs by Amit Mehra

My career over the past 25 years as a diplomat has allowed me to explore a number of culturally rich countries. I was based for a few years in Jakarta, Kuwait, Shanghai, São Paulo, Cairo, Beijing, and now in New Delhi—and I wanted my home to reflect the traditions and aesthetic heritage of the cultures in which I’ve had the pleasure of being immersed.

I have been able to travel, document by photography, and bring home art, handicrafts and objets d’art which serendipity helped me find.

I feel a sense of real pleasure when forms, shapes and patterns somehow connect in objects and furnishings which were purchased years apart, from different corners of the world. Each time I start an assignment at a new location, I relish with excitement the opportunity (over the first month or two of settling in a new living space) to place my furnishings and artefacts in different juxtapositions, new colour schemes for walls, and new finds during my time in that country.

These etageres with camel bone inlay accents are Chen’s designs, fabricated by a craftsman in Cairo. Featuring an Arabesque aesthetic and Mashrabiya latticework, this assembly showcases knick-knacks like antique Bedouin jewellery, Chinese seals, Jordanian ceremonial daggers, antique Chinese embroidered shoes and hair ornaments from minority tribes in China; Photographs by Amit Mehra

I prefer a muted palette such as charcoal, dove grey, ecru or taupe. And, over the years, my aesthetic has developed towards showcasing art objects and let the eye wander. I have a penchant for sculptures and 3D objects rather than wall-mounted works.

Sitting atop an ornate bridal chest from southern India are rare pieces like a headdress with intricate birds and flowers carved out of tin and a necklace from the Miao minority tribe in China, a Bedouin diadem adorned with carnelian inlays and a Syrian Jambiya dagger; Photographs by Amit Mehra

The furniture, much of which I designed myself, is contemporary and minimalist, while the objects I am attracted to are usually extravagant, ethnic and evocative with respect to the stories and history of that culture that are suggested from the appearance and patina.

The overall theme continues to be seen in this contemporary table, a lamp fashioned out of a bird cage, egg-shaped ceiling light fixtures from Cairo, a Tibetan chest with a hunting scene, a majestic peacock replica found in Beijing, and Thai Celadon dinnerware; Photographs by Amit Mehra

During my three years in India, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hunting for period pieces, which represent the country’s rich and ornate artisan traditions. An antique pillar from Gujarat, temple chariot panels from Kerala, bracelets from Orissa and half-completed sketches for miniature Mughal paintings from Rajasthan—not only has my decor collection been enriched but my travels and vivid memories here have left indelible marks as life experiences.