Whimsical And Ornate: The Opulence Of Chinoiseries

Chinoiseries dining room

Chinoiseries are not just a style of the past. Modern chinoiserie is elegant, ornate and still quite on style. Have a look!


In the mid 18th century in France, the court of Louis XV favored a style of decoration that was fanciful, ornate and idyllic. It was called “chinoiseries” and was an especially strong influence on the rococo art style of the period. François Boucher’s paintings are considered some of the most representative examples of the style.

Chinoiseries is a European style (despite its name) that used a variety of elements inspired from Chinese arts and decorative items: asymmetry, seemingly random changes of scale, images of an imaginary and idyllic China and the motifs and lacquered texture typically found on Chinese porcelain.

French flair, Asian influence

You can easily recognize chinoiseries through its pale, watered-down colors and its use of ornate plant and garden motifs. A lot of what we consider “Asian-style” would be more accurately described as “chinoiserie”, especially when the furniture is more Western than Asian.

Even though the more ornate rococo style is rather out of favor in home decor these days, chinoiserie is still an interesting design choice because of its exoticism and its whimsical look. Even today, chinoiseries have a definite French flair that combines the delicate look of a Chinese porcelain to the elegance of French design. The result? A beautiful opulence that is at home in all kinds of styles, from exotic to modern, from eclectic to traditional.

Chinoiserie wallpapers

The most frequent way you will see chinoiserie in homes today is probably on wallpapers. Wallpapers are great because they can carry complex patterns over a large space without breaking it.

Chinoiserie wallpapers exist in all colors and styles: from the more ornate, complex garden and animal scenes to simple repeating flower and plant patterns, from monochromatic shade-on-shade to dramatic contrasting colors like black on red.

Transitional Powder Room by New York Interior Designers & Decorators Anjali Pollack Design

Popular motifs include lotus flowers, flowering branches, birds in flight and peacocks, especially with their tails closed. You’ll also sometimes see landscapes or gardens with far-away figures holding parasols.

Chinoiserie furniture

When applied to furniture, chinoiserie tends to be a little more subtle. It’s usually seen in the ornate decoration of the back of chairs or the edge of tables: a square latticework that is instantly recognizable as Chinese-inspired.

It’s interesting to note that when it comes to chairs, headboards and cabinets, chinoiserie actually appears in rounded shapes contrasted by some right angles. It is reminiscent of the flexibility of bamboo–an important construction material in Asia–which can be bent or tied at right angles.

Traditional Bedroom by San Jose Interior Designers & Decorators Linda L. Floyd, Inc., Interior Design

Another way to identify chinoiserie furniture is through the use of lacquered wood, often painted over with chinoiserie motifs in gold or another contrasting color. These motifs are as varied as those you will find on wallpapers.

Chinoiserie accessories

If you want to add just a touch of chinoiserie without overpowering your room, using a few accessories is the best strategy.

Of course, there’s the obvious folding screen, stereotypical chinoiserie accessory if there ever was one. Folding screens are great for separating sections of a large room, or as a focal point in a corner. You can also replace wallpaper with a screen and put it behind a piece of furniture or even a bed.

Traditional Entry by Washington Interior Designers & Decorators Sroka Design, Inc.

Add a subtle touch of chinoiserie with upholstery. Beautiful tone-on-tone chinoiserie motifs on a couch make for an elegant living room. Install chinoiserie cushions (or make them yourself) on your boring kitchen chairs for a bit of pizzaz.

Of course, Chinese porcelain vases, lacquered or unlacquered, blue on white or any other color combination, instantly scream “chinoiserie”. But you can think a little outside the box and, for example, reproduce a flower motif in an actual flower arrangement that you set on a table or a ledge.

Bamboo shades

Add some bamboo shades to the windows for a subtle light and an organic look. I actually much prefer them to the plastic stuff most people put in their windows. It’s not chinoiserie per se, but it has a hint of Asian-ness that is just perfect to enhance some chinoiserie motif elsewhere in the room.

Chinoiserie today

There are plenty of beautiful homes using chinoiserie motifs today. I personally like it, but in small doses rather than an overall style. How about you? Is chinoiserie overdone, or would you use it in your own home? Share your ideas, thoughts and photos with us in the comments!

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