Controversial cushions

Image of David Tang

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

I fail to understand your neurotic displeasure about square cushions being arranged in a diamond style. Some years ago I spent a small fortune on silk from Jim Thompson, Bangkok, and hired a seamstress to turn the fabric into as many cushions as possible. These cushions now adorn all my beds, each one of them balanced meticulously on a single corner. The result is stunning.

There are two practical and one theoretical reasons for my neurosis. First, a cushion exists in order to prop somebody up, and therefore if a cushion is square, the maximum area of support is obtained from the cushion being placed squarely. If it were to be placed in a diamond shape, the support is considerably reduced. Indeed, the v-shape that results from a diamond position might even make it uncomfortable for your back, with two symmetrical bits of hollowness on your spine, thereby making the cushion not quite fit for purpose, like many a government department.

Second, why should one pivot a square cushion on a point of least resistance? Placing it in a diamond shape would only increase the chances of its toppling over, and is therefore clearly inferior to the balanced position of one of the sides being on the horizontal.

There is also a theoretical reason: from a decorative point of view, if one were intent on creating some triangular effect, one would actually design triangular cushions, and not square ones, which should have precisely the effect of looking square. (This reminds me of the extremely difficult task I had when I translated into Chinese Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which he made the pun “the square that looked round”, creating an imaginative square that had eyes that looked round, when the phrase itself immediately suggested a paradox. This translation exercised me for days. Ever since, I am convinced that squares should look square, circles should look round, and triangles should look triangular!)

As for Jim Thompson, my personal view is that the silk fabrics that it favours for its endless numbers of cushions are the rough kind with many thread marks, not to mention in rather bright colours that never quite seem to come together, seamstress or no seamstress. So I suppose if you regard having a cockeyed constellation of cushions in liquorice allsorts as visually stunning, then that is indeed your personal prerogative. But I will be happy to give you the name of an oculist.

Ahem. There are a number of Mongolian governors, not one. Which one served you all the “yak stuff”? If he was in Mongolia, how exactly did you get to the next yak banquet in Lhasa, which, last time I checked, is in a place called Tibet, about 1,500 miles away? A state of confusion brought on by the altitude, perhaps?

There was and is only one governor in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, to which I was referring. I had gone there by overnight train from Peking on my first honeymoon. Clearly, you jumped the gun by assuming that I was talking about Outer Mongolia, which used to be a Soviet province, but is now independent. In the good old days, Ulan Bator was almost the most romantic post within the British Foreign Office, and one of its ambassadors and friend, John Colvin, whom I regularly caught having 40 winks at Brooks’s back in London, used to regale to me many amusing anecdotes when awake. On your presumptuousness of geography, you seem to be ignorant of private jets, in one of which I was fortunate enough to have been given a lift in between Hohhot and Lhasa. So there was no confusion in the air – just your oblivion of indulgent travel.

Is it acceptable to show dinner guests round one’s house? I notice that this does not happen too much with the British, whereas it happens all the time with people from other nationalities.

Unless you have a serious pile, it is usually not acceptable for you to show your guests round your home. If one had the urge to show off one’s luxuries, then it is a sign of insecurity – for being stylish should include indulging in the best without the necessity of an audience. When Larry Gagosian, arguably the most extraordinary art dealer in the world today, moved into his house, I sneaked into his bedroom in order to see what he liked waking up to. I spotted a Cy Twombly, a Picasso and a Matisse, which made me very jealous. Yet I know he wouldn’t normally invite his guests into his bedroom, and that’s why he is the smoothie that he is, and why I had to make my inspection by stealth.

While I enjoyed your response to the query on “tipping” in restaurants – submitted by presumably an American who plans to travel to Oman, Pakistan and India – did he not mean “giving of gratuities?”

You are kidding!

Email questions to

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.