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How to create a modern chinoiserie style bathroom

Written by Sarah Horner-Sigre

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Posted on September 15 2021

Have you ever been in someone's home where the bathroom is the grandest room in the house? Maybe it is the chic wallpapered feature wall, or perhaps it is the decorative fixtures and fittings. Whatever it is, there is something about that room makes you spend a little bit longer washing your hands.

HÉLÈNE Striking Chinoiserie Countertop Bathroom Wash Basin Sink - The Way We Live London

 

One of our favourites ways to create this grand, luxurious feel in a bathroom is through a modern adaptation of the chinoiserie style.

Born out of the traditional style of perceived rich exoticism in Asia, modern chinoiserie bathrooms are truly exquisite. Often decorated with ornate chinoiserie wallpaper or timeless blue and white porcelain, the chinoiserie design style is as classic as it is luxurious. But what is the modern chinoiserie style, and how do we apply it to our own homes?


LOLLI Beautiful Blue & White Chinoiserie Handmade Countertop Bathroom Wash Basin Sink - The Way We Live London

What is the chinoiserie style?

The origins of the chinoiserie style date back many centuries ago. Beautiful blue and white hand painted porcelain with detailed illustrative Chinese motifs (a hallmark of the chinoiserie style) can be traced all the way back to the Tang Dynasty in China. This ancient Chinese design tradition is the root of the "Chinoiserie" style, an adaptation that rose in popularly in Europe, centuries later.

What we know as chinoiserie today was a romanticised version of the Chinese and East Asian style, which was based on Chinese goods imported into Europe in 18th Century. The term 'Chinoiserie' actually derives from the French word for 'Chinese' and, like the word, the style was also a European style derived from Chinese and East Asian culture.

As luxury Chinese goods were imported into Europe, wealthy families became enamoured with the Asian lifestyle they were seeing on vases, silks and wallpaper. These goods were then interpreted by Europeans into the chinoiserie style, an ornate design style based on the original imported artworks, that was characterised by bold illustrative prints, rich colours and repeated motifs. Chinoiserie continued in popularity from the 18th century until the 19th century, with interiors of stately homes filled with chinoiserie furniture and wallpaper, giving the residents a taste of this perceived exotic and exciting world.

What does Chinoiserie look like?

Stylised scenes of Chinese lifestyle

Though the style of chinoiserie was inspired by the culture and design of the east, much of the chinoiserie furniture, decor and wallpaper, was actually made in Europe. As many of these artists would not have been to Asia, the design style of chinoiserie was illustrative of an extremely romanticised version of Chinese lifestyle, and the scenes were theatrical and heavily stylised.

Chinoiserie painting on furniture for bathroom cabinet

Repeated botanic motifs

One of the traits of the chinoiserie design is the set of repeated motifs. These included birds, such as phoenixes, pagodas and lifestyle scenes, and foo dogs, as well as more abstract floral designs. These scenes were hand painted in a beautifully illustrative style.

Chinoiserie wallpaper

(Image credit: Indigo Addiction Kyoto Portrait wallpaper from mindthegap.co.uk)

A rich chinoiserie colour palette

The colour palette of chinoiserie included rich luxurious golds lacquered onto black, striking cobalt on creamy porcelain, and vivid red wallpaper. These beautiful colour combinations are part of what made the chinoiserie style so bold and recognisable.

modern chinoiserie wallpaper colour palette
 (Image credit: Impermanence Byobu wallpaper from mindthegap.co.uk)

It is important to note that the chinoiserie style is not a replication of the artworks and furnishings imported from China, or even an accurate representation of the Asian lifestyle, but an embellished version of the perceived 'oriental' and 'exotic' world of East Asia. With restricted travel, the Chinese export goods brought over on trading ships, such as rich silk, bold paintings, furniture, decorative art and ceramics, were the closest that the European upper class could get to this mysterious Asian world, so artists used their imagination to fill in the gaps of the Far East.

Why is Chinoiserie still so popular?

Whilst there is no rush for home owners to decorate their houses head to toe with Chinoiserie, the traditional style of chinoiserie is timeless. It is still popular to incorporate elements of chinoiserie in the home, such as a feature wall with chinoiserie wallpaper, stylised white and blue china, bright green, or black and gold ornamental detailing, for a more modern chinoiserie look.

How do you create the chinoiserie style in the bathroom?

Believe it or not there are ways you can incorporate chinoiserie themes into your bathroom without looking like a stately home or too garish. Using elements of chinoiserie in smaller decorative doses, and merging them with more modern or mid century pieces can create a more subtle version of the design style.

Blue and white china

Blue and white ceramics are a signature part of chinoiserie, and are immediately associated with the stately homes that collected the vases, directly from Asia and the European versions. Incorporating the trend for these ceramics into your home can make the interior feel timeless and part of this tradition.

Though the original Chinese ceramics are more likely to be displayed in a museum cabinet rather than as part of your bathroom decor, instead incorporate porcelain with the same key decorative elements.

Our Mary and Lolli basins are directly inspired by the traditional design styles and pattern of the original chinoiserie ceramics. For a more contemporary style, our Helga basin uses the blue and cream colour scheme in a gradient modern effect.

MARY Blue & White Chinois Countertop Bathroom Wash Basin Sink - The Way We Live London

Discover more about the history of timeless blue and white porcelain in our blog post.

Chinoiserie wallpaper

Chinoiserie wallpaper is the pinnacle of luxury, and certainly a bold statement in any interior design project. The original wallpapers were hand painted and often made from silk, making them extremely expensive additions to the home.

contemporary chinoiserie bathroom wallpaper design
(Image credit: Takeda Jade - Cream & Green Cherry Blossom Wall Mural available from feathr.com)

 

Depicting either idealised scenes of Chinese life, oriental landscapes or repeated floral patterns, there are so many different versions of the chinoiserie wallpaper. Adding a feature wall with chinoiserie wallpaper to a bathroom is a beautiful way to elevate the design of the room.

Chinoiserie furniture

Along with the chinoiserie wallpaper and ceramics black and gold lacquered chests were another popular item from this genre. Antique chests could be used as vanity, propping up the basin sink.

(Image credit: Oriental blue cabinet from thenineschools.co.uk)
If you cannot get ahold of a genuine chinoiserie chest (they are pretty pricey!) consider upcycling an old vanity yourself. We detail some fun ways that you can spruce up a vanity in our blog here. To add a chinoiserie twist, use the chinoiserie colour palette, such white and blue, black and gold or red, and hand paint on illustrative scenes of your own (maybe using a stencil!) with birds, pagodas or floral patterns.
This sideboard has been upcycled with the Annie Sloan chinoiserie stencil to create a beautifully decorative piece which could be used to sit a pair of basins on in the bathroom.
(Image credit: Sideboard upcycled with chinoiserie birds stencil available from anniesloan.com)

 

Adding chinoiserie into your bathroom interior is definitely a timeless and classic style to consider if you love colour alongside some vintage pattern in your home decor. We hope you've found plenty of inspiration here to create your dream bathroom. Discover more of our range of chinois basins

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