Things I Love: Chinoiserie
We’re at the mid-point in the month of “Things I Love”, and one of the decor styles I love the most is Chinoiserie (french for “in the Chinese taste”). And do you know what I love about it? Besides the fact that it is a delicious blend of east meets west, it has also been in style for over four hundred years, being all the rage amongst the nobility of Europe in the 17th and 18th century, and still influences modern decor today.
Strangely enough, I can prove it’s been in style for centuries because it so easily passes the 10 Year Rule. And now you are probably curious about the 10 Year Rule: Ten years after a project is completed, elements can start start to feel a little dated. Times change and trends change, so 10 years is about the time we designers like to be called in for a refresh. Some of the trends might need to be replaced, but the room should generally just need a freshen, maybe a piece reupholstered that is showing some wear, and new pillows and accessory pieces brought in, but the bones of the room should still look good.
The below photo proves my point. It is from peak Elle Decor, circa 2007 - roughly 10 years ago- but the Chinese Chippendale chairs, which basically have been unchanged for centuries, still mix well with modern furniture, and still look 100% fresh.
Another hallmark of chinoiserie style is the ubiquitous Chinese Coromandel screen, still looking as good today as when the Chinese originally started carving them for export to Europe centuries ago. Coromandel is the term for carving reliefs in lacquer, but named for the Coromandel Coast of India where the Chinese brought their wares to be shipped to European nobility via the East Indian Trading Company in the 1600s. Amazing that they still look great when paired with our modern tastes.
Demand for Coromandel screens was so high, that a new method of getting the ever-so-hot chinoiserie look was devised by imitating the look of the screens with watercolors on paper, popularizing in the 17th century what is still a interior design staple today: wallpaper!
Last, I can’t talk about chinoiserie style, without mentioning the medium which is so popular and so ever-present that people don’t even associate it with the “Chinese taste” anymore, and that’s blue and white porcelain. In the 1600s and 1700s, kings built entire wings of palaces around blue and white porcelain imported from China; it was rare, exotic, and incredibly expensive. In today’s world, we see it everywhere, from the most formal of living rooms to the most comfy-casual of family rooms.
For more eastern inspiration, please visit my “Chinoiserie” Pinterest Board.