Veranda Magazine has chinoiserie on the mind in it’s Jan/Feb issue, and so do we! I’m fascinated by chinoiserie because there is so much freedom for interpretation. It can be done in a subtle way or it can be bold. In either case, I think Kerry Ann Dame sums it up well when she blogs: “Chinoiserie pieces say to the guest: this is an interesting home, these are well-traveled people; this family has a history; this home has roots.”
But what makes chinoiserie so compelling? The answer is in it’s history. Chinoiserie became incredibly popular in European furniture and interior design in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the East India Company established trade with Asian countries. Merchants would return from their eastern travels with the finest goods – delicate silks and porcelains, exotic ornaments, and beautifully hand-painted furniture.
Beyond these products, they brought back fantastical and whimsical tales about China – a distant and mysterious land. Both the goods and stories captured the attention of Europeans, and soon aristocrats began decorating their homes in this fashion. But, authentic products from China were very expensive, so European manufacturers began producing cheaper imitations. They adapted European style with Chinese influences and ornamentation, and in doing so, relied upon spoken and written descriptions of Chinese scenes and culture. Their adaptations combined real, elaborated and even whimsical Far East elements, and often combined cultural aspects from many Asian countries. So the simple definition of chinoiserie – the interpretation or evocation of Chinese motifs and styles – is a little misleading. Chinoiserie really blends Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Persian influences, and it often interprets motifs in a fanciful way, with a focus on texture (whether raw silks or smooth lacquer, etc.).
For rooms that remind us how chic chinoiserie can be, check out our Pinterest board.