Let’s look at this lovely Chinese interior design style in honor of the Chinese New Year.
Of all the decorating trends and style stalwarts, Chinese interior design is one of the most unassuming. Asian design is one of the most powerful and memorable design dynasties. It flourished despite receiving less attention than Mid-Century, Scandi, or Baroque.
What is Chinese interior design?
Several images come to mind when you close your eyes and imagine a typical Chinese interior. It’s hard to pin down a country with such a rich and long history.
Sleek surfaces of dark, lacquered woods, dimly lit decorative lanterns, meticulously hewn latticework furniture and screens, and color palettes that often blend warm neutrals with punchy, saturated tones of red (China’s luckiest color), blacks, and golds.
All true of a classic Asian interior, a design direction drawn from thousands of years of Chinese culture and decorating evolution, dating back to 1000 BC.
Asian design embodies zen. Chinese-style interior design will often build this sense of harmony by blending complementary influences across the continent.
Japanese and Chinese interior design elements often combine with the delicate nature of traditional Japanese design. Offsetting the boldness of the Chinese aesthetic narrative.
Chinese interiors are harmonious, well-decorated, and well-managed.
What are the characteristics of Chinese interior design?
Chinese interior design features rice paper lanterns and cherry red and gloss black palettes.
Wood is known not only as a food staple to China’s national treasure, the giant panda but also as a Chinese symbol of virtue. It symbolizes traditional Chinese values and the potential harmony between people and nature.
Ancient China called the plum, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum “the four gentlemen.” The pine, bamboo, and plum “three gentlemen in winter.” The deep root symbolizes resoluteness, and the tall, straight stem honor.
These deep meanings make bamboo so respected and wanted in inspired Chinese interiors. Whether as a photo frame, a mirror surround, or even a lampstand. And Chinese architects are increasingly turning to bamboo as a sustainable building material.
The lacquer craft
Lacquer techniques are synonymous with Chinese interiors and more popular during the Ming Dynasty. It’s a skill over 1400 years old and takes time and discipline.
The makers would build up layers of different lacquers to carve into and create impeccably artistic scenes on elaborately decorated luxury furniture. One of the most famous examples was the Chinese Coromandel screens that used various lacquering techniques.
Kuan cai (incised colors) is the simplest, but one piece of furniture can use up to 30 techniques, each with 100 stages. Lacquering wall finishes are newer.
Whether used for decorative or room-dividing purposes, screens are commonplace in Asian interior design. Shoji – a door, window, or screen used in Japanese architecture made from translucent washi paper and a lattice of bamboo – are the most mimicked.
Chinese interior design uses similar screens, and folding screens adorned with incredibly detailed murals, often mythological or historical in theme. One of the most famous examples was the Chinese Coromandel screens that used various lacquering techniques.
The folding screen began in ancient China and was soon taken up by France and Sweden.
Because of the respect for detail, precision, and decoration, latticework is often seen in Chinese interior design. Lattices can be seen on anything from cabinet doors to shutters.
Screens also add an element of privacy and seclusion. Traditional canopy beds can have lattice or fretwork on the wood paneling’s interior and exterior, with the patterns they trace being geometric and more contemporary or floral-based.
Unique and magical, Chinoiserie wallpapers were (and still are) often painted by hand using lustrous hues and fastidious detailing.
Although not traditional to Chinese design — instead a European creation to represent the beauty of Chinese art and scenery — they flourished in the 18th century and became more widespread in the 19th – there are original examples in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and the Yellow Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.
Chinoiserie wallpaper (real or imitation) can be used in panels, line the inside of a closet, or as a backdrop to display fine china or crystal. It is known for fading slowly and elegantly. It is also one of the most covetable wall coverings available,
Ming Dynasty tables
Ruling China from 1386 to 1644 A.D., the Ming Dynasty is renowned for many things, such as population doubling, trade expansion, drama, literature, and creating world-renowned porcelain. Amongst these, furniture characterized by the period became one of the most revered examples of Chinese interior design, particularly the Ming Dynasty tables.
Made from precious wood and showing superb craftsmanship and joinery, these tables would often be simple in structure with minimal decoration. This would allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine and the decoration to be appreciated fully.
It’s often referred to as the golden era in the development of Ancient Chinese furniture, so unearthing a Ming Dynasty antique table is one of the richest ways to celebrate Chinese interior design in your home.
Ornate wedding cabinets
Another icon in the history of Chinese furniture is the wedding cabinet. A traditional gift given to the family of the groom by the bride’s family, it was the centerpiece of her dowry. As such, they were generally elaborate in their carvings and etchings and often had a large central brass plate and locking bar. Today, they’re collector’s pieces and work well as storage closets and drink cabinets.
Like most considerations in Chinese-style interiors, history informs the path. Another ancient technique used for decorating pieces made from metal is Cloisonné.
Metal wires are soldered to the form, such as a vase or piece of jewelry, in decorative patterns and then filled in with enamel, colored glass, or gem inlays resulting in a mosaic-like quality to the finished piece, although much finer.
The delicate nature of cloisonné appealed to Chinese taste and, by the 14th century, was being used in China to decorate items such as vases and bowls. Today, you can expect to see at least one cloisonné piece in a Chinese interior, be it an ornament or a trinket box.
The tradition of the garden stool
Stools are a staple in Asian room sets, and one of the most iconic designs is the barrel-shaped Chinese garden stool. Initially, it was used in China purely in outdoor spaces.
Wherever possible, Chinese homes emphasize the landscape and courtyard or garden. Or, even if the garden were visible, the garden stool moving into the home was a way to build a bridge between the indoors and the outside world.
These stools were used inside and out for seating and as a side table. They’re available in carved wooden designs, as the traditional garden stool was made, and glazed stone or porcelain is deemed more suitable for our interiors. Lattice work is not uncommon on stool designs, either.
Chinese interior design trends
The Marie Kondo effect is pan-Asian, though Japanese. Thus, Chinese customs of ordering and keeping only useful items in the home have fueled the decluttering trend. Chinese interiors avoid clutter, which drains energy.
Natural materials are another popular Chinese interior design idea. Chinese people value nature, honor it and recognize the benefits of using natural resources. Whether it’s wooden furniture, natural fiber rugs, or stones as spiritual grounding, bringing nature into our homes helps us relax.
Another trend in Chinese interior design is using screens to divide a room. Over the last decade or two, a seismic shift has been toward open-plan living. So we’ve slowly begun to gravitate toward the broken plan.
Separated rooms mean we divide the space between cozy pockets and zones of activity. Modern Chinese interior design applies decorative screens to large rooms to divide space.
How to incorporate Chinese Interior design in your home
Chinese interior decorating can be minimalist or maximalist, like any design influence. But perhaps three key stepping stones will steer your scheme in a (far) easterly direction. The decision is how much pressure to apply to the pedal and how much to turn up the volume.
How overt or subtle do you wish the interior design to dominate your room? And remember, even if you combine all three of the following, your scheme can still err on the quieter side of Chinese design.
Order and flow
Zen is about creating a calm, spacious room with a sense of belonging.
Feng Shui influences Chinese interior design. Which channels energy to create harmony. The art of placement optimizes “chi” by placing and organizing items in a room (energy).
Balance and order are important in Chinese culture, so make them part of your room’s theme.
Richness in color is another tenant of traditional Chinese interior design. A rousing Asian design symphony will play from your space when ruby red walls, ebony or mahogany fine furniture, gold relief work, gilt decorative accents, and brass metallics combine.
If something so strong doesn’t suit your taste, choose one of the signature Chinese colors and use it in several places to draw attention. Such as a chorus of dining chairs, a decorative screen, or the colors on your walls.
Chinese design isn’t so much a rejection of bold lines and sharp form. But, it embraces and champions decorative form in a very big way.
To truly develop a Chinese-inspired scheme, you’ll need to make room for ornate carvings on furniture or lamps. Seek intricate fabric patterns and embrace the more-is-more approach to room details. All the while keeping everything else very much about less is more.