The iconic Orient-inspired style, which entices with its intricate motifs and rich colours, remains a popular style adopted by modern homeowners. Nikki Hunt shares on the origins of Chinoiserie, its uses and subsequent evolution
The word Chinoiserie is French and means “in the Chinese taste”. It describes a decorating trend that has been used for centuries to infuse drama, and a sense of fantasy into some of the world’s most glamorous interiors. Many popular Chinoiserie motifs will be instantly recognisable to us in Asia and people often mistakenly assume that the style originated in China. But it is, in fact, a trend that began in Europe in the 17th century.
Back then, the Europeans didn’t distinguish between these Eastern cultures, and everything from China, Japan, India and Persia were termed “Oriental”. Owning a piece of, “japanned” furniture, as some pieces were called, became the height of fashion amongst Europe’s elite. They were fascinated with all things Asian and throughout the continent, aristocrats began decorating their castles and palaces with Chinoiserie elements. As authentic products were rare, European manufacturers produced imitations, often adapting traditional Asian designs and symbols, altering scale and proportion to better suit European taste. In essence, Chinoiserie is the original East Meets West design style.
TYPICAL CHINOISERIE DESIGNS
A typical Chinoiserie motif would be the dragon image, which the Europeans regarded as a symbol of the mystical Eastern lands. Other common features of Chinoiserie decoration are figures wearing Chinese clothing. Some artists chose to copy figures from genuine imports but in many cases the images they drew were products of the
designer’s imagination. Birds, flowers and fanciful landscapes were also popular, as were pagodas.
In a reaction to the minimalism that has dominated the design scene for much of the past decade, designers are now embracing luxury and pattern. Thus, there is a return to glamorous, colourful interiors and Chinoiserie is at the forefront of this trend. Twenty first-century Chinoiserie is still glamorous but it is a glamour mixed with humour invoking a sense of luxury without formality. Chinoiserie rooms don’t have to be busy: the look is more streamlined and crisp than it was centuries ago. This style is a much-used tool in my design team’s arsenal and elements of Chinoiserie pepper many of our projects. A Chinoiserie backdrop enables us to combine family heirloom pieces within a modern living environment so that we can personalise the homes of our clients. We also use it to spice up interiors with little architectural interest. And, because Chinoserie reflects so much of the culture and colour of life in Singapore, we often incorporate Chinoiserie accents to give our projects a sense of place. Personally, Chinoiserie is a particular favourite of mine, because I am drawn to the lighthearted, playful feeling that it infuses into a room. The stylised oriental figures, patterns and colours make me smile. And there can be few better reasons to decorate your home than to create an environment that lifts your mood and makes you feel good. For me, Chinoiserie does just that.
NIKKI HUNT INTERIOR DESIGNER Having spent the last 11 years specialising in interior design, the founding partner of Design Intervention continues to be deeply passionate about all things related to creativity and design. Hunt’s work has been featured in the International Design Review – a compilation of works from the top 100 interior designers from around the globe, for two consecutive years. To date, Hunt is the only Singapore-based designer to garner this achievement.
(Clockwise from top) Bamboo inspired pendant lighting by Jonathan Adler; Celestial Dragon wallpaper by Matthew Williamson; Motifs of oriental pagodas are especially common in Chinoserie; Cheonsam chair from the DI Signature series
(Opposite) Chair by Oscar De La Renta