Antiques and chinoiserie furnishings often blend beautifully together, such as in this Richmond, VA, house, but first a primer on just what chinoiserie is all about. Pronounced sheen-waz-ree, this popular decorative motif incorporates Chinese designs, such as bamboo, blue-and-white porcelain and pagodas, into more traditional elements. It’s believed to have gained high favor when trade with Asia became more prevalent in the 18th century. Soon afterwards, a new fascination with Chinese and East Asian designs started appearing in Europe and then in America. These days, a room might have just one chinoiserie element — or a half dozen for a more themed effect.
Interior designer Allison Hennessy, now living in Atlanta, but a veteran of the New York design scene, effortlessly mixed a young family’s heirloom pieces with just the right amount of strong color and Asian flair. “The couple was married at Boca Grande, FL, where the wife grew up vacationing,” says Allison. “Boca Grande has a wonderful, old-school ambience, but remains fresh and energetic with lots of fun color and pattern. We wanted to capture the same youthful spirit in this house.”
The foyer sets the tone for this traditional-with-a-twist home, with its green, Pagoda-like light fixture against grass cloth walls and antique rugs. “The couple grew up with antiques, and wanted to incorporate a few English pieces, but the whimsical lantern, mod-looking David Hicks fabric geometric stair runner and casual warmth of the walls keep the antiques and traditional architecture from feeling too serious,” explains the designer.
The wife’s love of chinoiserie is especially evident in the adjacent living room, with its bamboo chairs, vibrant red curtains, Asian accent pieces and blue-and-white lamps (a wedding gift to the couple). Allison covered two club chairs in Schumacher’s Chiang mai fabric — with its distinctive dragon pattern in vivid colors — to anchor the fireplace. “That fabric was the perfect statement pattern to infuse color, pattern and ‘wow’ into the room,” she says, adding, “strong pattern needs to be contrasted with quieter pieces, however, so that your eye can take everything in without getting overwhelmed! The simple gilt sunburst mirror and chinoiserie lamps were enough to finish off the fireplace wall when paired with the Chiang Mai fabric.”
The nearby dining room continues a love of pattern, with geometric Quadrille fabric on chairs paired with a floral window treatment. Once again, some elements — such as the sideboard and lamps — are subdued, while other features make a bold statement. Allison’s philosophy about the color red in this room may very well echo her overall point of view when it comes to design: “We like red, but wanted to use bright, clear shades,” she says. “We never want drab!”
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