When it comes to finding special things for our homes, dreams of the East are rarely far from our minds, finds
From the French Chinois, meaning ‘in the Chinese style’, the look reached its peak in the 18th century
With their exquisitely detailed scenes of colourful birds nestled among the blossom of cherry trees, or of elegant Chinese ladies fanning themselves beside a bubbling stream, rich and lustrous chinoiserie wallpapers were once the preserve of palaces and stately homes. Today, these wallpapers are as likely to adorn the walls of metropolitan apartments and suburban terraces. Chinoiserie (from ‘ Chinois’ French for Chinese and meaning ‘decorated in a Chinese style’) is a look that has captivated our imaginations for over 300 years, and as the current trend for the wallpaper and other pieces such as ceramic birds, blue-and-white china and lacquered boxes and furniture shows, it is one that is still going strong today.
The fashion for bringing the oriental into our homes began in the 17th century, when the English aristocracy couldn’t get enough of the rare and exotic wares trickling in from the Far East. It reached its peak in the mid 18th century, when no country house was complete without a Chinese room, and came to the fore again in the early 19th century. At this time, George IV outdid everybody by creating what remains the grandest chinoiserie interior in Britain, and perhaps the world, at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.
First glimpses of the East
According to art and design historian and Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury, Britain’s obsession with the Far East began early, with artefacts making their way from China along the Silk Road during the Tudor period.