Chinoiserie Style – The Design Style Guide

Chinoiserie style emerged in Europe in the 17th century, inspired by Chinese art and design. Chinoiserie decor covers the usage of Chinoiserie patterns in interior design. The term “Chinoiserie” comes from the French word “chinois,” which means Chinese.

This post is part of a Design Style Guide Series, where I teach you all about different design styles and how you can be inspired by them, and choose any of them to define your personal and brand style.

Chinoiserie Style %E2%80%93 The Design Style Guide
Chinoiserie Style – The Design Style Guide

In this Design Style Guide, we dive into Chinoiserie:

  • the history of Chinoiserie
  • how to identify Chinoiserie
  • the colors and patterns used in Chinoiserie
  • some amazing examples of Chinoiserie in interiors
katsura wallpaper green thibaut
Chinoiserie Style - The Design Style Guide

What is Chinoiserie style?

Chinoiserie is a decorative style that was popular in Europe in the 18th century. It is characterized by the use of Chinese motifs and designs, such as pagodas, dragons, and cherry blossoms, in furniture, textiles, and other decorative objects.

The style originated from the European fascination with the exotic and the unknown, and it was heavily influenced by Chinese art and culture. Chinoiserie was often seen as a symbol of luxury and sophistication, and it was particularly popular among the aristocracy and the wealthy.

Today, chinoiserie remains a popular decorative style, and it continues to inspire designers and artists around the world.

The History of Chinoiserie

Chinoiserie first emerged in Europe during the late 17th century, as European trade with China increased and Chinese art and design began to influence European culture. European merchants and diplomats brought back Chinese ceramics, textiles, and other luxury goods, which were highly sought-after by European aristocrats and the growing middle class.

As a result, European artists and craftsmen began to incorporate Chinese motifs into their work, creating a new decorative style that combined European craftsmanship with Chinese inspiration. This style was first popularized in France during the reign of Louis XIV, who commissioned the creation of the Trianon de Porcelaine, a porcelain pavilion decorated in the Chinoiserie style.

The Chinoiserie style quickly spread throughout Europe, particularly in England, where it became popular during the 18th century. English designers such as Thomas Chippendale incorporated Chinese motifs into their furniture designs, and Chinese-inspired wallpaper became a popular decorating choice for English homes.

The popularity of Chinoiserie waned during the 19th century as tastes shifted toward more historically accurate and realistic styles. However, the style experienced a revival during the 20th century, particularly in the Art Deco movement, which incorporated elements of Chinoiserie into its designs.

Today, Chinoiserie continues to influence contemporary design, with designers incorporating Chinese motifs into their work in new and innovative ways.

Chinoiserie furniture
Chinoiserie furniture

How do you identify a Chinoiserie?

The style is characterized by the use of Chinese motifs, such as pagodas, dragons, and exotic landscapes, in European decorative arts, including furniture, ceramics, textiles, and wallpaper. Chinoiserie often features a whimsical and fantastical interpretation of Chinese culture, rather than a faithful representation of it.

Several key characteristics can help identify a piece of Chinoiserie design

  • Use of Chinese motifs: Chinoiserie is characterized by the use of Chinese-inspired motifs, such as pagodas, dragons, exotic landscapes, and intricate floral designs.
john lewis wallpaper
Wallpaper from John Lewis featuring beautiful pagodas
  • Vibrant colors: Chinoiserie often features bright, bold colors, including shades of red, gold, blue, and green.
  • Ornate details: Chinoiserie designs are often highly decorative, featuring ornate details such as intricate carving, delicate filigree work, and elaborate patterns.
red chinoiserie fabric
Red Chinoiserie fabric via Etsy
  • Playful interpretations of Chinese culture: Chinoiserie often features a whimsical and fantastical interpretation of Chinese culture, rather than a realistic representation of it.
  • Use of lacquer and other glossy finishes: Chinoiserie designs often incorporate lacquer or other glossy finishes, which give the pieces a shiny, polished appearance.
  • Incorporation into a range of decorative arts: Chinoiserie can be found in a variety of decorative arts, including furniture, ceramics, textiles, wallpaper, and paintings.

Overall, Chinoiserie is a distinctive and recognizable style that draws on Chinese design elements to create a unique and fanciful aesthetic.

Mary McGee AD
Pink & Brown Chinoiserie by Mary McGee – via Architectural Digest

What are the colors of chinoiserie?

Chinoiserie often features a vibrant color palette, with colors that are bright, bold, and highly decorative. Some of the most commonly used colors in Chinoiserie design include:

Red: Red is a prominent color in Chinese culture, symbolizing good luck, happiness, and prosperity. In Chinoiserie design, red is often used for furniture, fabrics, and decorative accents.

Gold: Gold is another important color in Chinese culture, representing wealth, success, and prosperity. In Chinoiserie design, gold is often used for decorative accents, including gilding on furniture and picture frames.

Blue: Blue is a popular color in Chinese porcelain, and is often used in Chinoiserie design for fabrics, wallpaper, and ceramics.

Green: Green is also commonly used in Chinoiserie design, representing nature, growth, and renewal. It is often used in floral and foliage motifs.

Pink: Pink is a more delicate color often used in Chinoiserie designs for textiles and ceramics.

White: White is used as a base color for many Chinoiserie designs, providing a neutral background for the bold and colorful motifs.

Overall, the colors used in Chinoiserie design are bright, bold, and highly decorative, often featuring a combination of rich jewel tones and metallic accents.

Blue is a popular color in Chinese porcelain
Blue is a popular color in Chinese porcelain

What are the most common chinoiserie-style patterns?

Chinoiserie is known for its intricate and ornate patterns, which are inspired by Chinese art and culture. Some of the most common Chinoiserie patterns include:

Bamboo: Bamboo is a popular motif in Chinoiserie design, symbolizing strength, flexibility, and longevity. It is often depicted in stylized and abstract forms.

Dragons: Dragons are a symbol of power and strength in Chinese culture, and are often featured in Chinoiserie designs as intricate and ornate creatures.

Pagodas: Pagodas are a traditional Chinese architectural form, featuring multiple tiers and a curved roof. They are often depicted in Chinoiserie designs as part of a larger landscape scene.

Chinese pagoda is a popular interior design statement piece
Chinese pagoda is a popular interior design statement piece

Floral motifs: Chinoiserie designs often feature intricate floral motifs, including peonies, cherry blossoms, and lotus flowers. These motifs are often depicted in bright and bold colors.

Birds: Birds are a common motif in Chinoiserie design, often depicted in pairs as a symbol of love and fidelity. Common bird motifs include the phoenix, crane, and peacock.

Foliage and trees: Foliage and trees are another common motif in Chinoiserie designs, often depicted in intricate and stylized forms.

Geometric patterns: Chinoiserie designs also incorporate geometric patterns, such as lattice or fretwork, as a way of adding structure and complexity to the design.

What is the difference between chinoiserie and toile?

Chinoiserie and toile are two distinct decorative styles, although they can sometimes be confused due to their similar use of patterns and motifs.

Chinoiserie is a decorative style that often features whimsical and fantastical interpretations of Chinese culture and is known for its bold and vibrant color palette, intricate patterns, and ornate details.

Toile, on the other hand, is a type of printed fabric that originated in France in the 18th century. Toile is typically characterized by its monochromatic color scheme (often featuring shades of blue or red), and its use of detailed, repeating patterns depicting pastoral scenes, such as people, animals, and landscapes.

Toile de jouy
Toile de Jouy

While both Chinoiserie and toile feature intricate patterns and motifs, their styles and origins are distinct. Chinoiserie is inspired by Chinese culture, while toile is inspired by French pastoral scenes. Additionally, Chinoiserie is known for its use of bold colors and ornate details, while toile typically features a more subdued color palette and detailed patterns in a single color.

Which famous interior designers specialize in chinoiserie style?

Many famous interior designers have incorporated Chinoiserie into their work, either as a prominent style or as an accent. Some notable interior designers who have specialized in Chinoiserie include:

Dorothy Draper: A prominent American interior designer of the mid-20th century, Draper was known for her use of bold colors and patterns, including Chinoiserie motifs.

Tony Duquette: An American designer who worked primarily in the mid-20th century, Duquette was known for his exuberant and eclectic designs, which often incorporated Chinoiserie elements.

David Hicks: A British designer of the mid-20th century, Hicks was known for his modern and sophisticated designs, which often incorporated Chinoiserie motifs in unexpected ways.

Mario Buatta: An American interior designer known as the “Prince of Chintz,” Buatta was famous for his maximalist and eclectic designs, which often incorporated Chinoiserie elements.

Carleton Varney: An American designer and protégé of Dorothy Draper, Varney is known for his colorful and playful designs, which often feature Chinoiserie motifs and themes.

These designers are just a few examples of those who have incorporated Chinoiserie into their work. Chinoiserie has been a popular and influential design style for centuries and continues to inspire designers today.

Is Chinoiserie Style still popular?

Chinoiserie has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years and is considered a classic design style that never goes out of fashion. While the style may have had periods of decline in the past, it continues to inspire contemporary designers and decorators today.

Chinoiserie’s blend of European craftsmanship and Chinese inspiration creates a unique and timeless aesthetic that works well in a variety of design contexts. The whimsical and fantastical interpretation of Chinese culture in Chinoiserie also provides a playful and eclectic element to any design scheme.

In particular, Chinoiserie is often used in traditional and eclectic interior design styles, adding a touch of glamour and exoticism to a space. However, it can also be incorporated into modern and contemporary design styles, adding an unexpected twist to an otherwise minimalistic or industrial space.

Overall, while Chinoiserie may not be as ubiquitous as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, it remains a beloved and versatile design style that continues to inspire and captivate designers and homeowners alike.

Is this a great niche?

Maybe, if you love Chinoiserie, and you have a client base who also appreciates the style, this could be a great niche style for your interior design or decor business! However, we see most successful designers mix this style with other styles, here are some examples.

Mixing Chinoiserie with other interior design styles

Chinoiserie style is a popular design style that incorporates Chinese motifs, patterns, and art into interior design. If you want to mix the Chinoiserie style with other interior design styles, here are some tips:

  1. Combine Chinoiserie with Modern: Chinoiserie pairs well with modern design because it creates a nice contrast. You can incorporate Chinoiserie elements like a Chinese vase or a chinoiserie wallpaper into a modern room to add some personality and texture.
  2. Mix Chinoiserie with Traditional: Chinoiserie is often associated with traditional design, so it’s a natural fit. You can incorporate Chinoiserie elements like a Chinese screen or a chinoiserie fabric into a traditional room to add some interest and depth.
  3. Add Chinoiserie to a Bohemian space: Chinoiserie can also work well in a Bohemian space. You can add Chinoiserie elements like a Chinese lantern or a chinoiserie rug to a bohemian room to create a unique and eclectic look.
  4. Combine Chinoiserie with Coastal: Chinoiserie can also work well in a coastal space. You can add Chinoiserie elements like Chinese blue and white porcelain to a coastal room to create a serene and relaxed atmosphere.

Remember, the key to successfully mixing interior design styles is to find elements that complement each other and create a cohesive look. Experiment with different combinations until you find the perfect blend for your home.


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