Chinoiserie, the European imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions, has captured decorators’ imaginations for centuries. Characterized by pagodas, coromandel screens, and motifs like bamboo, birds, and floral designs, chinoiserie evokes fantasy and whimsy. By incorporating chinoiserie elements into home decor, designers can send rooms on flights of fancy.
A Brief History of Chinoiserie
Chinoiserie emerged in the 17th century as global trade brought Chinese goods to Europe. As Europeans caught glimpses of alluringly exotic Chinese culture, a vogue for East Asian art swept the continent.
However, European chinoiserie was more fantasy than reality. Artists and artisans mimicked Chinese styles according to European sensibilities, often with fanciful results bearing little resemblance to authentic Chinese art. Pagodas morphed into tall, multi-tiered structures. Peonies and peacocks that weren’t native to China dotted patterns.
By the 18th century, chinoiserie was at the height of fashion. British and French designers produced elaborate, imaginative works catering to their cultures’ fervor for imaginary “Cathay.” Beautiful objects from tea sets to entire palace pavilions reflected this craze.
Chinoiserie’s popularity waned in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as Neoclassical styles came into vogue. But it surged again in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with renewed appreciation for global aesthetics. Legendary designers like Coco Chanel incorporated chinoiserie into their works.
Today chinoiserie endures as a timeless decorative approach. Read on to discover inspiring ways to bring chinoiserie style into contemporary home spaces.
Fundamentals of Chinoiserie Style
Chinoiserie may seem challenging to pull off in modern decor. But a few simple guidelines help designers achieve success:
- Focus on classic elements. Pagodas, coromandel screens, bamboo, exotic flowers, and birds like peacocks and phoenixes epitomize chinoiserie style. Use these motifs as starting points.
- Allow for whimsy. Chinoiserie historically involves fanciful interpretations of Chinese culture according to European aesthetics. Don’t be afraid to have fun with motifs.
- Use a light touch. Too much chinoiserie overwhelms a space. Add accents gradually until achieving the desired effect.
- Pair with continental styles. Blending chinoiserie with French, British, or American antiques grounds spaces and prevents a costume-like feel.
Adhering to these core principles lets designers tap into chinoiserie’s magical spirit. Read on for specific ideas.
Chinoiserie Wall Treatments
Wall coverings establish foundations for room designs. Chinoiserie-inspired wall treatments transport spaces. Consider:
From dense patterns to sparse designs, chinoiserie wallpaper options abound. Choose samples wisely to complement a room’s proportions and existing elements.
Dense patterns like concentric diamonds, overlapping flowers, and bamboo thickets make strong style statements. Use sparingly in small spaces, and avoid pairing with ornate furnishings.
Widely spaced pagodas and other motifs keep walls airy. They support heavier furniture pieces and intricate textile patterns.
Neutral backgrounds punctuated with birds or blooms provide versatility. Build around these wallpapers by layering in bolder accessories.
Metallic sheens, either silver or gold, add glamour while retaining exotic flair. opt for these finishes in sophisticated spaces meant for adult entertaining.
Whatever pattern suits a space, select wallpaper in muted rather than vivid hues. Soft blues, greens, taupes, and ivories harmonize with surrounding decor.
Hand-Painted Chinoiserie Murals
Custom hand-painted chinoiserie murals establish stunning backdrops. While expensive, they allow fully customized designs.
Work with muralists to develop vignettes reflecting personal interests or hobbies. A vignette featuring calligraphy supplies resonates in a home office. Blooming orchids and songbirds suit a sunroom sanctuary.
Consider murals that expand across entire walls or cover ceilings. These commanding works maximize visual impact. Just ensure decor remains balanced so the mural doesn’t overwhelm.
To make a statement without total commitment, opt for a chinoiserie mural inset within panel molding. The surrounding framework grounds the focal point.
Chinoiserie Wall Decals
Removable wall decals provide affordable, non-permanent chinoiserie accents. Groupings create featured focal points while individual decals scatter whimsical surprises.
Make an instant framed mural by clustering decals within wallpaper borders or molding panels. For renters wary of custom murals, this delivers the look without installing original art.
In open floor plans, use repeating decals to define spaces without permanent walls. A pagoda line can delineate a sitting area. Bamboo forms a virtual boundary by a desk.
Chinoiserie Fretwork and Trim
Intricately carved fretwork and architectural trim lend chinoiserie elements without overhauling entire walls. Concentrate these details in feature areas.
Fretwork friezes mounted atop walls or beneath crown molding establish Asian influences. Opt for depths of at least five inches so the designs don’t get lost.
Column capitals turned into chinoiserie sculptures make dramatic statements. Craft such pieces from high-density foam or thermoformed plastic for affordable customization.
Chair rails and crown molding with carved pagoda and floral motifs blend chinoiserie into traditional trimwork. Use corner block accents to continue patterns.
Painted finishes in metallic silver, gold, black, or red lacquer enrich carved frets and trims. But leave them natural for organic warmth.
Upholstered seating, screens, and headboards invite chinoiserie into room foundations. Detail these pieces for eclectic distinction.
A chinoiserie sofa makes an exotic centerpiece. Seek classic forms like Lawson, camelback, or English rolled-arm styles, then enrich with details.
- Flanged corners mimicking pagodas
- Down-filled kidney pillows covered in embroidered silk
- Carved bamboo or calligraphy symbols on exposed wood feet
- Contrast welting and trim in black or red lacquer hues
Mix two patterns in the same color family for time-tested chinoiserie allure. A brocade and tapestry or silk and velvet pairing exudes tailored polish.
An intricately detailed chinoiserie headboard transforms a bed into the room’s eye-catching highlight. Consider:
- An open fretwork design with pagodas and flowers carved from wood or foam
- A paneled headboard covered in chinoiserie wallpaper or lacquered in red or black
- Tufting arranged in a lotus flower motif
- Attached coromandel screens for a headboard with built-in art
Echo the headboard’s colors and motifs with bamboo-turned bedside tables, phoenix pillows, and orchid-strewn bedding.
Chinoiserie Coromandel Screens
No chinoiserie-inspired space is complete without incorporating one or more antique or vintage coromandel screens.
Accent a seating vignette with a small two- or three-fold screen covered in vibrant birds and flowers. Lean it against the wall for non-permanent flexibility.
Separate a sitting area from a home office with a six- or eight-fold floor screen. Opt for more muted hues so it doesn’t overwhelm the adjacent workspace.
Install a built-in coromandel screen instead of traditional room dividers. Framed and hinged, these screens define spaces with panache when opened.
Coromandel screens infuse pizazz. But use them judiciously, allowing their intricate details to shine.
The right accessories provide finishing chinoiserie flourishes. Layer in accents to bring spaces to life.
Choose lamps that replace traditional bases with Asian-inspired silhouettes.
Pagoda lamps in ceramic, crystal, or lacquered wood make stunning accents atop console tables and sideboards. Opt for beige linen or silk lampshades piped in a coordinating hue.
Bamboo-turned lamps fit anywhere organic warmth is desired. Keep shades simple; the sculptural bases shine on their own.
Ceramic vase lamps with traditional Chinese motifs like flowers, dragons, or calligraphy scripts concentrate chinoiserie style in small sculptural doses.
Frames inspired by Asian decorative arts surround mirrors with intrigue.
Black or red lacquer frames with inlaid mother-of-pearl form a refined contrast to most settings. Avoid ornate surrounds so these bold frames stand out.
Bamboo or fretwork frames offer organic alternatives. Opt for silver, white, or natural finishes to complement various color palettes.
Beveled mirrors with etched chinoiserie patterns, even in corners or borders, provide subtle detailing. Work best above console tables or integrated into paneled walls.
Chinoiserie Porcelain Accents
Scatter vases, trays, and objet throughout spaces for chinoiserie finishing touches.
High-karat gold details on black, red, or blue-and-white porcelain make lavish accents. Reserve for special locations like entry console tables or formal mantels.
Famille verte and famille rose vases display traditional Chinese motifs in vibrant hues. Nestle in bookcases, shelving, and side table vignettes.
Deep blue and white planters with scrolling lotus motifs keep greenery alive with style. Cluster in threes down a tabletop or mantel.
Lacquered trays bearing auspicious symbols or zodiac animals provide portable surfaces for tabletop items. Keep nearby for serving guests.
The right porcelain pieces infuse chinoiserie magic into any decor scheme.
Chinoiserie Color Palettes
While many associate chinoiserie with red and black lacquer, a broader spectrum of hues complements this fantasy style. Consider:
Soothing blues from porcelain and delft-inspired tones to inky indigos reflect classic colorways adapted from Ming pottery. Especially serene in bedrooms.
Vibrant jewel tones like emerald, amethyst, ruby, and sapphire take cues from enameled porcelains. Makes dynamic statements in livelier rooms.
Rich metallics including silver, gold, bronze, and copper emulate decorative arts finishing. Opt for gilded baroque-style frames and rococo carved furnishings.
Earthy neutrals like bamboo, linen, sand, stone, and cream balance energetic brights. Allow chinoiserie patterns to shine while tempering their boldness.
Black and red lacquer finishes provide traditional yin-yang contrast. Use sparingly to avoid overwhelming light spaces. Makes a dramatic impact on focal walls.
Chinoiserie Style By Room
While chinoiserie adapts well to many spaces, certain rooms especially suit its exotic flair.
Chinoiserie Living Rooms
As gathering spots for entertaining, living rooms benefit from chinoiserie’s sense of fantasy and surprise. Try:
- Floral-strewn chinoiserie wallpaper as a lively backdrop
- A velvet sofa with embroidered cushions and lacquered feet
- An ornate fretwork room screen separating sitting areas
- Porcelain vases filled with peonies and orchids
- Gold pagoda table lamps atop bamboo side tables
These details evoke lavish lounges perfect for convivial parties.
Chinoiserie lends bedrooms an air of romance and rejuvenation. Incorporate:
- Toile wallpaper or panels mimicking rice paper shoji screens
- An intricate fretwork headboard softened with tufting
- Blue and white porcelain accents scattered atop nightstands
- Silk quilts with phoenix or floral embroidery
- Bamboo night tables flanking the bed
The result: a restful retreat with exotic flair.
Chinoiserie Dining Rooms
Create an ambiance of hospitality and celebration in the dining room with details like:
- A custom hand-painted chinoiserie mural gracing the wall
- An Asian-inspired chandelier with pagoda silhouettes or red tassels
- Lacquered dining chairs surrounding an inlaid black or mother-of-pearl table
- Asian porcelain accenting a credenza
- Red and blue silk on seat cushions and table linens
Guests will delight in the festive touches.
Blending Eras and Styles
Chinoiserie intermingles beautifully with various aesthetics for personalized spaces. Try:
Chinoiserie + French Country
The ornate detailing of French country furniture pairs playfully with chinoiserie’s whimsy.
- Distressed bamboo-turned bedside tables
- An antique armoire with fretwork doors
- Floral toile cushions on a carved lounge
- A pagoda-shaped trumeau mirror
The blend feels casually elegant and convivial.
Chinoiserie + Mid Century Modern
Sleek silhouettes get a kick from chinoiserie’s bold accents.
- A carved black lacquer credenza
- Dragon-inspired barstools
- A silk area rug with pagoda motifs
- A wall mural of birds and blossoms
The mix offers lively contrast for dramatic impact.
Chinoiserie + Industrial
The careful juxtaposition adds intrigue to rugged industrial elements.
- An iron canopy bed dressed in silk linens
- A reclaimed wood dining table surrounded by fretwork chairs
- Porcelain vases softened by eucalyptus branches
The blend feels grounded yet still fanciful.
By thoughtfully combining eras and styles, chinoiserie transforms into a personalized statement.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about incorporating chinoiserie style into home decor.
Is chinoiserie still in style today?
Yes, chinoiserie remains a fashionable and relevant decor approach. Its fantasy interpretations of Chinese culture offer a timeless sense of whimsy and surprise. Designers continue reinventing chinoiserie with contemporary forms and fresh palettes.
How do you mix patterns in chinoiserie style?
Stick to 2-3 patterns in the same color family for cohesion. For example, pair a bamboo-printed wallpaper with a silk velvet sofa and embroidered satin cushions. Work in solids like wood furnishings and white porcelain vases to give the eye a rest.
What are the most popular colors for chinoiserie decor?
Traditional hues like red, black, and metallic lacquers remain classics. But today’s chinoiserie palettes branch out to include soft blues, celadon greens, creams, taupes, or bold brights like emerald and sapphire blue.
What rooms work best with chinoiserie style?
Chinoiserie adapts well to living rooms, bedrooms, entryways, dining rooms, studies, and sitting rooms. Incorporate sparingly into kitchens and baths focused on clean, contemporary lines.
Does chinoiserie work in a minimalist home?
Absolutely. Use a light touch when incorporating chinoiserie into spare, modern spaces. Try a single coromandel screen, a few porcelain vases, or black and white fretwork panels as accents against neutral backdrops.
What are inexpensive ways to incorporate chinoiserie?
Affordable methods include chinoiserie wall decals, bamboo or pagoda table lamps, floral pillows or throws, and vases or trays from import stores. Focus budget on a statement piece like a carved chair rather than sprinkling in pricier details.
Few design styles delight and surprise quite like chinoiserie. Its fanciful interpretations of Asian aesthetics send decor on flights of fancy. By incorporating pagodas, fretwork, coromandel screens, and porcelain accents, designers create joyful spaces. Chinoiserie mingles with varied aesthetics from French country to modern and adapts beautifully to many rooms. A touch of the exotic transports homes without overwhelming. Embrace chinoiserie’s playful extravagance to craft interiors brimming with imagination and elegance. Just take a decorative journey through Cathay to discover chinoiserie’s magical possibilities.