Chinoiserie wallpaper has seen its popularity come and go over the centuries, but it is hotter than ever right now. Chrissy Teigen and John Legend put some up in their son Miles’ nursery, where they give him cuddles and eat late night McDonald’s.
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This mural is called Amazonia by De Gournay, one of the design houses leading the way in Chinoiserie wallpaper.
Chinoiserie is a style of artwork and design that mimics Chinese and other East Asian art. European traders first brought Chinese wallpaper back with them in the 17th century, and it was totally unlike anything in Europe at the time. Where English wallpapers were done in neutrals and muted colors and small-scale prints, the Chinese papers were grand in scale and painted in vibrant blues, greens, and reds.
Separate ornately hand-painted panels would be joined together to cover not just a wall but an entire room in one continuous illustration. These panorama featured motifs like “bird and branches” and “figure scenes showing life and occupations in China.”
Because of the detail put into them and their large scale, they would set you back a pretty pence.
For some perspective, in the mid 1700s, basic wallpaper was 9 shillings per roll (~60 square feet), and fine Chinese wallpaper was 3 pounds per panel (~36 square feet).
For those of you who aren’t up to speed on your shillings to pounds conversion, I did the math for you (actually I had no idea how to convert that, so I found a website that could!). The Chinese papers were about 15 times as expensive.
Because of the high price, and also just because the Chinese papers were totally amazing, European wallpaper manufacturers produced their own versions. Thus Chinoiserie was born. They originally sought to create accurate imitations, but eventually mixed in European styles (sometimes awkwardly). No matter, though — their popularity lasted through most of the 1800s.
Today’s Chinoiserie is representative of what you would’ve seen on the walls of the finest houses and establishments in 18th and 19th century England. Designers still use bold colors to depict curving branches, delicate birds, and small figures fishing and farming. But now they are available not exclusively as large-scale, hand-painted murals, but also digitally-printed by the roll (which won’t set you back quite as many pounds).
If you do have the budget to go for the real deal, two studios currently lead the way in Chinoiserie wallpaper: Gracie and the previously mentioned De Gournay. Both still hand paint all of their papers and can customize any design to fit the exact dimensions of your walls. If you’re feeling extra indulgent, you can even have the design painted on dyed silk instead of paper.
(Historical Chinoiserie info sourced from The Papered Wall, Edited by Lesley Hoskins)