This old-school wallpaper trend is everywhere—here's how to use it

We’ve got the scoop on exactly how to use traditional Chinoiserie wallpaper in a modern home

Chinoiserie wallpaper
(Image credit: Etsy)

Whether you know the technical title behind the sumptuous design or not, there’s a good chance you’ve come across this fanciful wallpaper idea on Instagram over the past few months. Chinoiserie is considered to be similar in style to Rococo—it’s quite exuberant, rich, and places emphasis on subject matter that is centered around leisure and pleasure.

Despite the name, which is a loanword derived from the French word Chinois (Chinese), Chinoiserie is largely a European and American interpretation of Chinese and other East Asian artistic traditions.

While it first appeared in the West in the seventeenth century, the trend became particularly popular in the eighteenth century due to a rise in trade with China and other East Asian countries, these days, the historically significant decorative aesthetic continues to appear in modern day homes.

It’s important to keep in mind that modern Chinoiserie decor is a result of traditional Chinese and art design that has been conceptualized through a distinctly Western lens; a fictionalized account of what Chinese life looked like to outsiders in the late seventeenth century.

According to Z He, a London-based architect that grew up in Guangzhou, despite the questionable beginnings of the aesthetic, the elements of Chinoiserie style have been absorbed back into Chinese culture, in spite of the fact that it’s obviously a work of fiction. “Because the style is largely fictional, Chinese people were equally captivated by these imaginary landscapes and motifs—a reversal that I find fascinating,” she told The Guardian in a statement.

“In drawing rooms from Hong Kong to Hampstead, they created a very European version of the East,” she added. “It bore some relation to reality, but it was very romanticized. It reflected the China they wanted to discover.”

Looking to add some of said romanticized wallpaper to your own living space? Below, we tapped into some of the best design-savvy professionals in our network to get their insights on how to use Chinoiserie in a modern living space. From framing your favorite patterns to enlisting the fifth wall, here’s how to make the old-school wallpaper work in your home.

Consider going colorful.

Chinoiserie wallpaper

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Chinoiserie is often quite muted or pastel, but if your home tends to favor the bold, Jill Valeri,  Owner/President or The Welcome Home: Interior Design Solutions, LLC, suggests choosing a fresh color to make the traditional pattern feel more modern rather than leaning into a more pastel shade just because it’s what you’re seeing on Instagram.

Try it on the ceiling for a bold statement.

ceiling wallpaper

(Image credit: Etsy)

Looking to really add some pop to your space? Consider using it on the ceiling instead of the walls for an unexpected and grand look.

“Some benefits of doing something bold on the ceiling are that it is unexpected. Many people completely ignore the fifth wall and just leave it white,” explains Valeri. “By adding wallpaper to a ceiling you draw the eye up and it can instantly add drama and interest. It will sustain less wear and tear than on the walls and it can highlight a light fixture.”

Additionally, Valeri says that in some spaces it can be great to use it on the walls and then continue it onto the ceiling for an enveloping feeling like a jewel box. “This works well in powder rooms where you aren’t spending a lot of time but it’s a nice surprise for guests,” she shares.

Consider working it into furniture.

Pink shelf and chintz curtains in Georgian townhouse

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Not sure you want to commit to an entire wall? No worries! You can still add a touch of the trendy wallpaper in your space without overwhelming the room. Valeri suggests lining the back of a built-in or other large piece of furniture with shelving to make a great backdrop without having to incorporate the walls.

Display it like fine art.

chinoiserie wallpaper panels

(Image credit: Etsy)

“Frame large panels of expensive chinoiserie like art and hang it on your walls,” suggests Valeri. “This is particularly great if you’re renting your place or you want to be able to remove it later.”

Work it into your headboard.

Chinoiserie wallpaper in a modern bedroom

(Image credit: Etsy)

“Think Pride and Prejudice and Bridgerton when decorating a bedroom with Chinoiserie wallpaper,” says Amy Hillary, “Use a Chinoiserie wallpaper as an extension of your headboard. To do this, place it behind the top of your bed.”

Use it to make your bathroom pop.

Chinoiserie wallpaper in a bathroom

(Image credit: Etsy)

Bathroom wallpaper can really make a functional space sing, and Hillary suggests installing a Chinoiserie wallpaper on the biggest expanse of wall in your bathroom to make the room pop. “If installed in a small toilet restroom, place it on the wall behind the toilet to create a pretty yet grand focal point in the room,” she says.

Take advantage of your entryway.

Chinoiserie wallpaper in an entryway

(Image credit: Etsy)

“If you have panelling in your entryway, a Chinoiserie wallpaper looks great installed above panelling,” says Hillary. “Wainscotting mirrors the antique feel of the old floral, oriental pattern.”

Kaitlyn McInnis

Kaitlyn is an experienced travel and lifestyle writer with a keen interest in interior decorating and home optimization. An avid traveler, she's currently splitting her time between her apartment in a century-old châteauesque building in Montreal and her cozy chalet in the woods (that she built with her own two hands... and many YouTube tutorials!). Her work has been published in Travel + Leisure, Tatler Asia, Forbes, Robb Report Singapore, and various other international publications.