Discover why we love decor from the Orient and why it never goes out of style.
Have you ever wondered why there is a pagoda in the middle of East London’s Victoria Park? Queen Victoria had a passion for the architecture of the Orient and purchased the brightly coloured wooden structure for her people after the Chinese Exhibition of 1842. You don’t have to build your own pagoda to inflect your home with Asiatic style. Ever since the 18th Century, British homeowners have been collecting Chinese textiles, porcelain and furniture as a means of reflecting a life well-travelled and a cultivated sense of taste. Those who could not afford to travel East simply learnt to imitate Chinese craftsmen, decorating furniture with typical motifs such as Chinese figures, cranes, and floral patterns in a style that has come to be known as ‘Chinoiserie’.
The good news is that Chinoiserie never went out of style. Modern admirers can still see exquisite examples that have been preserved since the early 18th Century, such as the Chinese Room at Claydon House (National Trust) and Kew Gardens.
In the V&A you can see designer John Linnell’s original designs for the ‘Badminton Chair’, made for the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort, that launched the vogue for Chinoiserie among the English aristocracy.
Hand-painted silk fabrics and wallpapers by De Gournay bring 18th century techniques into modern day homes.
Contemporary designers often reference chinoiserie in their work, and modern day takes on the chinoiserie trend could be seen in full force at the opening of the Met’s Costume Gala in 2015, themed ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’. Who could forget Rihanna in a sweeping yellow silk cape, trimmed with canary marabou, a look that unfortunately prompted some cruel omelette comparisons?
Unlike Rihanna, you can play it safe, while bringing the Orient in to your home, by checking out our latest Chinoiserie items or scouring vintage markets for faded silk fabrics and pieces of embroidery, which could be used to decorate a sideboard or brighten up a lampshade. Create a stencil, or if you’re feeling brave, paint freehand birds or flowers onto wallpaper or canvas to create a piece with a story. The trick to nailing the modern Chinoiserie trend is not to follow the theme slavishly, the way that English aristocrats such as the Duke of Beaufort did, but to introduce accents of floral patterns, crane motifs and sumptuous silks to amplify a modern interior into something out of the ordinary. The lure of the East has never been more enticing.
Highlights from our Chinoiserie edit: