How to Use Chinoiserie in Your Home

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If you’ve ever flipped through the glossy pages of a British publication such as House & Garden, you’ve undoubtedly swooned over photographs of poetic country homes and chic London flats that are elegantly decorated with various forms of Chinoiserie. You start to have grand reveries of hanging 18th-century-inspired scenes from the Orient on your walls but then you return to reality and wonder, but how would that work? Would it look good? Or completely out of place? Sometimes, we become so set in our North American ways of interior design that it’s hard to imagine something different. For this reason, it’s important to look at design from various periods of time and from around the world to keep things fresh and inspired. 

Chinoiserie is a prime example of an element of decor that we don’t necessarily see everyday in North America and when we do, we tend to think of more traditional British homes… but let’s backtrack for a moment. Some of you are likely reading this and thinking what the fiddlesticks is Chinoiserie?! Chinoiserie comes from the French ‘Chinois,’ meaning Chinese and it was incredibly popular in the 18th-century due to good ol’ colonialism. Essentially, people wanted to bring scenes from exotic faraway places (primarily Asia) into their homes and from this desire, Chinoiserie was born. Chinoiserie is highly detailed scenes and landscapes with vibrant colours and in the form of wall coverings as well as fabrics. As these wall coverings became ever more popular, the designs and scenes started to evolve and were made closer to home in increasingly westernized styles. 

Whether you look at examples of Chinoiserie from the original high-end creators or more contemporary and affordable sources, it’s hard not to love the picturesque scenes, complete flora and fauna. Love it as you may though, incorporating it into your decor at home may not be the most intuitive design decision you make. To inspire you, here are a few ways we’ve incorporated it into our homes and designs…

Wall Coverings & Panels

It is impossible to talk about Chinoiserie and not talk about wall coverings as they simply go hand in hand. Wall coverings are the OG medium for Chinoiserie and can come in the form of paper or fabric (often silk). Originally, companies like de Gournay hand-painted their wall coverings with immense detail and with flecks of gold or silver leaf. Today, de Gournay maintains this heritage craft but to obtain these works of art, you will pay a pretty penny! Thankfully though, there are more affordable contemporary suppliers that make it possible to get the look for less. Whichever path you take, these wall coverings are particularly splendid for powder rooms and bathrooms in general. They also make for killer accent walls in sophisticated living rooms and principal bedrooms and look lovely floating above half-panelled walls. If pasting these coverings onto your walls seems like too much of a commitment, hanging them on panels instead can be a great alternative and allows for the possibility of relocation. You can do this by framing segments of the paper or fabric and hanging them on the walls like art or, in keeping with the 18th-century style, display them in the form of a folding screen, as shown in the bedroom above. 

Pottery & Lighting

In some homes, large walls covered in trees and birds simply doesn’t work but that doesn’t mean Chinoiserie as a whole is out of the question. As an alternative, it’s worthwhile considering it in the form of pottery or lighting. Chinoiserie table lamps specifically are incredibly easy to come by and once again come in a vast price range. New imitations can be purchased from various contemporary sources or, for something more authentic, take a dive into some vintage stores and antique shops. Online, there are also plenty of people looking to sell off their old pieces. These pieces can make wonderful bedside table lamps in the right bedroom or alternatively can add colour and detail in living rooms and entryways. Pottery on the other hand can be used as a decorative element in almost any room in your home and can make for a wonderful vessel for flowers and branches. The key to making either work is to not concern yourself too much with mixing styles. One item covered in citrus trees and swirling butterflies does not an English country house make! It might be the one colourful piece in an otherwise tonal, transitional living room or simply the whimsical vase that holds winding, flowering branches on your modern kitchen island.

Window Treatments & Pillows

For simple seating or minimalist bedding that is in need of something punchy and unexpected, Chinoiserie throw pillows are a great way to go! Whatever your colour preferences are, we can guarantee that we can source a scenery that appeals to you. The same goes for windows! If you find a room is lacking in pizazz, Chinoiserie textiles have a way of bringing the outdoors in, adding life to a room and framing a window beautifully. With the help of our industry professionals, together we can design custom window treatment solutions for your home!

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