There's Something About Chinoiserie

We are drawn to the fantastical elements of the decorative European style known as Chinoiserie, which was all the rage during the 17th and 18th centuries and still looks great today. It was considered the height of fashion back then to own a piece of Chinoiserie furniture with its tremendous range and variety of Asian scenes and exotic locales.

For many Europeans, their fascination with the Far East began in the 13th Century with Marco Polo and his trading route, the Silk Road, which served as a bridge across the continent of Asia. Goods were transported along the Silk Road on the backs of camels and via crates bringing such exotic items as silk fabrics, carpets and porcelain to an unsophisticated Europe that was still in the throes of the Dark Ages.

At the time of Marco Polo, Japan and China were complex and very cultured societies whose artwork spanned centuries. It was a status symbol for wealthy Europeans to own artifacts from the Far East. Marco Polo served as a ‘traveling illustrator/raconteur’ and, as such, his descriptions of architecture, artwork and costumes seemed like fantasy. In fact, accounts of his travels that were published in 1295 became known as ‘the million lies’ and many in Europe and elsewhere simply did not believe his stories.

Chinoiserie is unique in its decorative features of combining real elements with fantasy, often with wild abandon making it both fun and beautiful. Often we will find monkeys and leopards lurking in the foliage of flowered wallpaper while ornate pagodas reign supreme in the center of an English china dinner service.

Want to bring a little Chinoiserie into your own home? For starters, get inspiration from watching old Hollywood movies from the 30’s and 40’s, which will give you a sense of this style, which combines artifacts from nature with classical pieces such as exotic fireplace screens, bamboo chairs and writing desks, porcelain urn lamps and beautiful decorative wall coverings.

Here are a few other sources for bringing contemporary Chinoiserie style into your own home:

  • Bungalow 5: The Bungalow 5 furniture collections are designed and produced by a group of architects and designers who are based in New York City but who work on projects throughout the world. Working with in-house cabinetmakers and finishers, the Bungalow 5 team produces unique and stylish pieces often using unusual materials sourced from distant places. Check out their furniture line at
  • Jonathan Adler: Inspired by 50’s and 60’s design, Jonathan Adler’s pieces are also influenced by Eastern and Western classical archetypes, they are informed by a modern sensibility to silhouette, material, and color; and possess a versatility which allows them to slip as comfortably into a traditional room as a modern loft or sunroom. Visit Jonathan Adler’s online shop at
  • De Gourney Wallcoverings: Offering a full line of fabric and paper wallcoverings, De Gournay’s Chinoiserie Collection is a beautiful collection of Chinoiserie-style wallcoverings, perfect for a formal dining room, master bedroom or living room. Their paper colors are an exotic blend of elements from nature. Visit their website at
  • Paul Montgomery Murals and Wallpapers: Paul Montgomery’s Chinoiserie Collection is a beautiful series of exclusive hand-painted wallpaper designs based on classical Asian and transitional themes. These designs include floral and nature scenes, which are created by us for use as wallpapers, screens and art pieces. View some inspiring installations, details and custom coloring on his inspirations page:Chinoiserie Wallpaper Inspirations.

Robert Frank is a local resident and owner of Robert Frank Interiors, a full-service interior design and construction company located in San Marino, California. Robert Frank Interiors works in collaboration with clients to create beautiful, functional spaces that reflect their lifestyles and personalities. Visit us on the web at