Chinoiserie Chic


chinoiserie chic Francois Boucher, The Chinese GardenFrancois Boucher “The Chinese Garden”

Chinoiserie Chic. Yeah, you knew it was coming. After all of those gorgeous vases I snapped at the gift show.

But, what IS Chinoiserie, actually? Its stuff from China, right? Porcelains, ginger jars, opium and ming tables. Well, these days, yes, but that wasn’t always the case. read on… I did not know this either.

Chinoiserie is a French word which refers to a EUROPEAN artistic style that reflects Chinese influence and is characterized through use of a fanciful, fantasized, romanticized, version of how Europeans IMAGINED people in the far east to be and live. So, what we think of as “Chinese” is often actually European! who knew?

When and how did it begin? Well, remember that dude, Marco Polo? In the 13th century, he traveled to the Orient which actually includes everything from the middle east on. He made several trips via the “silk road” (remember that one?) as it was known and brought back not only silks, porcelains and other exotic goods, but also fanciful stories, of pagodas, unusual dress, an exotic race.

This greatly intrigued the Europeans, particularly the English aristocracy who grew to covet everything Chinese. It was all the rage in the 17th and 19th centuries. Whimsical Oriental scenes with fantastical decorative details – Chinese people in elaborate robes with coolie hats, long ponytails and mustaches, along with intricately detailed pagodas, layered with fretwork, bells and tassels; or exotic animals such as monkeys, lions, and elephants in costume were all aspects of this fantasized depiction of Asian life.

That, is Chinoiserie and it is intermingled with genuine Chinese styles. ( just to add to the confusion) But these days, Chinoiserie is a broad classification of both traditional Chinese and the more modern European interpretation. It even made its way into furniture as was first interpreted by cabinet makers such as Thomas Chippendale; henceforth the term “Chinese Chippendale.”  The fretwork designs also included the Greek Key pattern. Ahh.. but that is Greek, right? Actually, I believe that the Greeks probably stole it from the Chinese.



Today, Chinoiserie Chic is again, wildly popular.


Chinoiserie is the foundation for the Hollywood Regency Style, popularized by such designers as Ruthie Sommers, however, most designers use some form of Chinoiserie somewhere in their decorating. It is that popular and versatile and of course, an enduring classic.

Ruthie Sommers

In future blog posts, I will undoubtedly be narrowing down the many, many ways in which Chinoiserie is used and its different mediums, but for now, please enjoy this sampling of some of my favorite images.


Mary McDonald

Mary McDonald

Phoebe Howard

Katie Rosenfeld

chinoiserie chic

Kips Bay Show house Cullman and Kravis

Steven Gambrel

Tritter FeeferKatie Rosenfeld

Harrison Howard

All images via my pinterest page and if I did not provide a link, please contact me,

and I’ll be happy to find it for you.

Best Wishes,


ps: There is a wonderful blog if you don’t already know called Chinoiserie Chic. The ENTIRE blog is Chinoiserie and it’s fabulous!

7th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2020 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Christina - June 8, 2017 - 3:39 PM

    Hi Laurel,

    The word “coolie” is a derogatory offensive term. While it may have been used at one time to describe the farmer’s hat (or rice hat), it’s an antiquated demeaning word. Not sure if you know this, just an FYI. Otherwise, I love your site.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - June 8, 2017 - 4:08 PM

      Hi Christina,

      I did not know that and sorry that you are offended. But I have to disagree that it is obsolete. It is still used to describe a shape of lamp shade that looks like the coolie hat.

      I would never use that word to refer to a person. That would be demeaning. ReplyCancel

  • June Anderson - June 11, 2016 - 3:17 AM

    So lovely! Be still my heart! Thank you for this Laurel!ReplyCancel

  • Suzanne Bonham - April 27, 2016 - 11:54 PM

    Hello Laurel – I love your blog! Keep the miniature history lessons coming – these are great food for the soul. Many lovely images.ReplyCancel

  • Ann - September 21, 2015 - 12:38 AM

    Breathtaking! Wonderful site…ReplyCancel

  • Dolores - March 18, 2015 - 7:43 PM

    Another feast for the eyes, Laurel! Thank you!!!!!! I was happy to find my Chinese Chippendale chairs here in such exalted company .:-)ReplyCancel

  • Loi Thai - August 30, 2012 - 9:24 PM

    Hi Laurel –
    Fabulous post! I’ve not seen many of those images. I love the foyer with that staircase and all the mirrors. Talk about first impression. DIVINE!!! You went to the gift show? I will check out your previous post.
    Ciao ciao,

    • Laurel - August 31, 2012 - 12:39 PM

      I cherish your responses Loi! You and maybe 2 other people read that post. lol That’s it. I know it takes time, but…
      Anyway, I mustn’t get discouraged. I am working on something new and yes, its tough to come up with pics that haven’t been
      published a million times already. So, of course, the best way around that is to often post your own photos! But sometimes,
      I want to share my take on certain things.ReplyCancel