Singapore Tatler Homes - - APR/MAY ISSUE -

Bernard Tschumi

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.


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...

(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...

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