Design Vocabulary: Chinoiserie

Chinoiserie (pronounced: shin-wahz-REE) is a French term, meaning “in the Chinese style”. What it really means is “what Europeans understood the Chinese style to be when they first started hearing about traditional Asian arts in the 1700’s and how they tried to copy it over the next few centuries”.

Yeah. The French term sounds better. As usual.

Chinoiserie, in action, looks like this:

Image courtesy of

Can you see the Asian flowers and birds in the wallpaper? You have a little Asian flavor, but you can still show off your European wealth in your gold mirror and crystal chandelier. This was very sexy design when it was new.

Chinoiserie really hit its stride when Europe was in the middle of the Rococo period, which celebrated nature. The Rococo period was already producing art work and furniture like this:

"The Swing" by Fragonard, 1767 Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

“If you can find space for more nature-themed ornamentation, squeeze it in. What? You’ve found a whole new continent’s worth of species? Let’s add them, too!”

Image courtesy of

Major design clients, like Louis XV of France (you can read a little about him here), could not pass up the idea of having all of those flowers and birds from the “exotic Orient” in their decor. Chinese-inspired shapes and motifs showed up on furniture design, porcelain, art, textiles and, especially, wallpaper.

See how the above wallpaper, painting and cabinet have a similar color palette? That’s no coincidence. The clients were already into these colors and ordering them for every item available. The designers just bent the “Chinese” styles to fit the color preferences of the current market.

Chinoiserie became all the rage for fashionable houses. In England, a Prince in need of a weekend retreat wanted very stylish rooms.  His “Chinese Gallery” combined a little of everything Chinoiserie and came together as this:

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, UK 1838  Image courtesy of Wikipedia

It is a lovely style. Not authentically Asian, by any means, but a pleasing compilation of Asian imagery. This is probably why it has been so consistently produced over so many centuries.

Want a little Chinoiserie for your home? There are plenty of options still out there today! Check out the shopping source links below:

"Chirp" by Lenox

"Kew" wallpaper by Paul Montgomery Studio

"Windsor Fretwork Shelf"

"Arabesque" rug

"Collectors Classics Chinoiserie Coffee Table" by Ethan Allen

Chinoiserie vases

Chinoiserie magnets

What do you like about this style?  Does the history of the style surprise you? Where could you put a piece of Chinoiserie in your home?

Posted on April 20, 2011, in Decor, Design Vocabulary. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I love this design. It is very soothing!

  2. I have always just said shin-wah…thank you for the correction! Great blog!

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