Including Chinese elements in Western interiors is, of course, nothing new. Trade along the Silk Road had been occurring for centuries, and though tightly controlled by the Chinese, the advent of the sea trade in the 17th and 18th centuries allowed seemingly exotic exports, such as silks, porcelain, and lacquer, to become more available to the Western market. Expensive and opulent, Chinese goods stood as 17th and 18th-century symbols of wealth and worldliness. European craftsmen created their own interpretations of Chinese styles throughout the 18th century. Capitalizing on the public’s desire for exoticism, their designs often reached fantastical levels.
Two ionic 20th-century designers immediately come to mind when considering how to use Chinese elements in modern interiors. Hollywood Regency designer William “Billy” Haines’ luxurious interiors were eclectic combinations of European antiques, rich fabrics, and small scale furniture punctuated with unique Chinese objects and forms, such as a custom designed mirror inset with a Chinese plaque (lot 312), and Chinese vases mounted as lamps (lots 309 and 310). Designer Tony Duquette also delighted in infusing his opulent interiors with bold examples of Chinese taste, often creating his own pieces of Chinoiserie in the form of oversize pagodas, elaborately decorated mirrors, and going so far as to create a Chinese pavilion, designed in red lacquer and gold leaf on his Malibu, California property.
Today designers, such as Mary McDonald, continue to inject Chinese elements into their work, including touches such as blue and white porcelain vases, ceramic pagodas, horseshoe chairs, and lacquered furniture to create chic and modern spaces imbued with character.