Musings on Chinoiserie


Do you love blue and white china?  “Traditional” or “classic” design?  Do you have an item that seems oddly “oriental” that you associate with your mother, grandmother or other family member?  And you like it, but not quite sure how to fit it in? 

The fashion of Chinoiserie has been in vogue for over 300 years and there are many options to add something that you love into your decor.  These precious little flower vases of mine came from my father’s family and date to the 1920’s, another era of strong Chinese and Japanese influence.  They are not the sort of item that I would usually buy myself, but I love them and they remind me of my childhood when I would really respond to their happy little faces.


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I think that most know that the rage for blue and white china began when the first boatloads of real “china” came into Europe from the orient, and the elegant ladies of France and England couldn’t wait to have them in their parlors.  And through them, the very most fashionable and wealthiest of the American ladies of the colonies wanted to keep up with the fad.  The very ritual of tea and teatime came into being at the same time. 

Blue and white is still the very most popular type of collectible or decorative porcelain today.  A recent cover of Traditional Home (a fabulous project from Tobi Fairley) showcasing blue and white was one of the most popular issues in recent years, and tells how strong the passion is today for this very classic and traditional decoration!


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The term Chinoiserie is French for “Chinese-esque” and the great thing about that is the term is defined by the word “FANCIFUL”, so you can use your own interpretation and still be absolutely creative and correct!

The most recent collection of fabrics by the “Million Dollar Decorator” Mary McDonald for Schumacher includes a fabric that uses a classic Chinese bird pattern in very modern colors.  This fabric is beautiful and mixes well with modern geometrics, traditional small prints, and also can stand alone as a panel of beautiful “art”.


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In my travels I have seen many period rooms in stately homes in England that have served as wonderful inspiration.  My grandmother was an antique dealer and had many beautiful pieces that she used throughout her home.  When I am able to use the inspiration of my travels and the memory of my Grandmother’s beautiful home in an antique 1740’s colonial in upstate NY in my designs, I couldn’t be happier, or truer to my design philosophy.


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The Duchess’s private parlor at Ham House (outside London) dating from 1680-1720  Dutch “japanned” chairs and Javanese lacquered tea table, Delft blue and white vase. (National Trust image/John Hammond)


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Famous actor David Garrick’s faux bamboo chair from the 1740’s in the Victoria & Albert Museum image from National Trust Treasure Hunt blog/Emile de Bruijn


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“Chinese-Chippendale” style bridge from 1772- image from National Trust Treasure Hunt blog/Emile de Bruijn



Rudyard Kipling’s home “Bateman’s” Dining room with painted leather panels- the house dates from 1680.  He lived there with his wife from 1902 to his death and they decorated it in the early 1900’s version of the period.  Interior design is always about today’s interpretation of history. (National Trust image/Andreas von Einsiedel)


Chinoiserie is just ONE way of using something vintage or antique to tell your story today – if these pictures inspire you to add a little something fanciful AND traditional to your home, then I say Go FOR IT!



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