What is CHINOISERIE Style?
The word Chinoiserie is French and means “in the Chinese taste”.
It describes a decorating trend that has been used for centuries to infuse drama, and a sense of fantasy into some of the world’s most glamorous interiors. Many popular Chinoisere motifs will be instantly recognizable to us in Asia and people often, mistakenly, assume that the style originated in China. But it is, in fact, a trend that began in Europe in the 17th Century.
This was a time when European merchants were establishing trade routes across Asia, bringing home whimsical products and incredible stories of distant, mysterious lands. The Europeans didn’t distinguish between these Eastern cultures and everything from from China, Japan, India and Persia were termed “Oriental”. Owning a piece of, “japanned” furniture, as some pieces were called, became the height of fashion amongst Europe’s elite. They were fascinated with all things Asian and throughout the continent, aristocrats, began decorating their castles and palaces with Chinoiserie elements. As authentic products were rare, European manufacturers produced imitations, often adapting traditional Asian designs and symbols, altering scale and proportion to better suit European taste.
In essence, Chinoiserie is the original East Meets West design style.
Typical Chinoiserie Designs
European craftsman decorated everything from wallpapers, pottery, porcelain, and painted furniture with scenes from the orient. Typical Chinoiserie motifs included The Dragon image which the Europeans regarded as the symbol of the mystical Eastern lands.
Another common feature of Chinoiserie decoration are figures wearing Chinese clothing. Some artists chose to copy figures from genuine imports but, in many cases, the images they drew were products of the designer’s imagination.
Birds, flowers and fanciful landscapes were also popular, as were pagodas. So different from English architecture, the pagoda was incorporated into the design of many Chinoiserie objects.
In a reaction to the minimalism that has dominated the design scene for much of the past decade, designers are embracing luxury and pattern. There is a return to glamorous and colorful interiors and Chinoiserie is at the forefront of this trend. Four Hundred years after it originated, some of the worlds best known designers are reinventing the Chinoiserie style, reinterpreting it in fresh colorways, proportions or materials to make it as relevant today as it was centuries ago.
21st century Chinoiserie is still glamorous but it is a glamor mixed with humor invoking a sense of luxury without formality. Chinoiserie rooms don’t have to be busy: the look is more streamlined and crisp than it was centuries ago.
In this Living room, Chinoiserie accents are combined with contemporary materials. Walls and curtains are deliberately plain ensuring a look that resonates with the glamor of Chinoiserie but feels thoroughly current.
At Design Intervention, Chinoiserie is a much-used tool in our decorator’s arsenal and elements of Chinoiserie pepper many of our projects. A Chinoiserie backdrop may enable us to combine family heirloom pieces within a modern living environment so that we can personalize the homes of our clients. Sometimes, we use it to spice up interiors with little architectural interest or to add another dimension to contemporary rooms. And, because Chinoserie reflects so much of the culture and color of life in Singapore, we often incorporate Chinoiserie accents to give our projects a sense of place.
But perhaps, the reason that Chinoiserie is such a particular favorite of mine, is that I am drawn to the light-hearted, playful feeling that it infuses into a room. The stylized oriental figures, patterns and colors make me smile. And there can be few better reasons to decorate your home, than to create an environment that lifts your mood and makes you feel good. And, for me, Chinoiserie does just that.