News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Chinoiserie Chic

This week, we dive into Asian-inspired home design with blogger Beth Connolly.

Blogger Beth Connolly in her Alexandria home. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Before we begin, a quick language lesson: “Chinoiserie” is a French word that means “Chinese thing.” According to this week’s blogger, Beth Connolly from Chinoiserie Chic,“It refers to the West’s centuries-old fascination with an imaginary and exotic China.” Noted.

So where can we see the influences of this fascination? All around us, says Connolly—everything from garden stools to bird-and-flower-printed wallpaper bears the mark—and “there is not a home anywhere that would not be improved by a touch of chinoiserie.”

Connolly should know: She’s posted more than 300 blog entries on the subject in just the last year. A lawyer by training, Connolly has had a passion for home design all her life: “I was rearranging my parents’ furniture at age five and had the best Barbie dream house around.” Her first brush with chinoiserie came from a black-and-gold-lacquered secretary that belonged to her grandmother; Connolly was hooked. Today her Alexandria home is filled with chinoiserie touches.

We caught up with Connolly to pick her brain about our own design challenges, such as her tips for making small spaces look bigger and an easy do-it-yourself chinoiserie project. Read on for her answers to those questions and much more.

Your design aesthetic in five words:
“Timeless, elegant, stylish, classic, beautiful.”

Five words to describe the decor in your home:
“English, chinoiserie, gracious, tranquil, whimsical.”

Best magazine to glean the best design inspiration:
“My favorite shelter magazines, like Domino, House & Garden, Southern Accents, and Vogue Living are gone. I get far more inspiration today from design blogs. Blogs are where the action is, no matter the subject. We will see many more shelter magazines fold.”

Best place or neighborhood to glean design inspiration in Washington:
“Belle Haven and Georgetown. Gorgeous homes beautifully decorated.”

Three tips for making a small space look bigger:
“I couldn’t care less about big; I care about beautiful. I detest these tacky oversized McMansions. They are far harder to decorate. In their massive Hummer bathrooms, you have to get dressed when you get out of the shower or bath to walk across the room. In huge master bedrooms, you have to create a room within a room with a canopy bed or whatever so you don’t feel like you are sleeping in an auditorium. I’ll take small, charming, and cozy any day. If you are living in DC or a close-in neighborhood, space is at a premium. Embrace the fact that you are living in one of the greatest cities in the world and not in the middle of nowhere. No matter the size, surround yourself with what you love and it will look wonderful. But one trend that is great for making a space appear larger is to skip the cocktail table entirely. Use a tea table—it’s a much better height—or use two end tables as a cocktail table. Another tip is don’t hang your art too high; eye level is correct and makes ceilings look taller. And always hang curtains as high as possible—just below the ceiling or crown molding.”

Three landlord-friendly ways to decorate and personalize an apartment:
“Concentrate on things you will take with you, such as art, accessories, and furniture. If you are surrounded by wonderful things, you won’t even notice the white or beige walls or stock kitchen cabinets. I love sticker art in rentals to jazz up the walls, available at places like Target, Ikea, and Urban Outfitters. In my daughter’s rental in Georgetown, we created a whole hallway of gold flowers and branches, a fireplace, and a ceiling safari—all from decals. And the best part: Just peel them off when you move!”

Easy DIY project for adding a touch of Asian design:

“Get cheap frames from Ikea or Michael’s and frame handmade Japanese papers from Paper Source—cheap and gorgeous. Also, be on the lookout for a secondhand Chinese Chippendale chair. Paint it any color you like, cover the seat in a great fabric, and you will have a showstopping piece for any room.”

Your biggest DIY success and disaster:

“Buying large canvases at Michael’s and creating my own works of art inspired by favorite artists like Cy Twombly and Elliott Puckette. You don’t even need paint; DecoColor paint markers are perfect. And no disasters to report. I do my homework, and I don’t make mistakes.”

Best and worst current design trend:

“The best is chinoiserie, of course. Timeless and elegant as well as very chic and stylish, it gives instant character to any room. The worst is this depressing gray Belgian look. I would have to be medicated if I lived in a house decorated like that. Please make it go away.”

Last home item you splurged on—and how much it cost:

“An Annie Selke gold-leaf pagoda canopy bed. Cost: In the words of Miles Redd, ‘Buy the best and you only cry once.’ ”

Where to get Asian-inspired decor in Washington:
“High end: 1st Dibs, J Brown & Co., the Kellogg Collection, Random Harvest, John Rosselli, and East & Beyond. Budget-friendly: HomeGoods, Etsy, eBay, Craigslist, and the Old Lucketts Store in Lucketts, Virginia.”

Favorite accent color:
“Black. With palettes of ice blue, celadon green, coral pink, and yellow, a black piece or two grounds the room and keeps it from being too twee.”

Favorite local designer:

Darryl Carter. He and I were both trained as lawyers—he went to Georgetown and I went to George Washington—and we are both self-taught interior designers. Interior-design school does not create talented designers. A great interior designer is born with creativity, a great eye, attention to detail, and an excellent memory—these things can’t be taught, period. Look for talent, not credentials. If you love the paintings of an artist, do you worry what art school he went to?”

Favorite local design blog besides your own:

“DC is a blog-rich city, especially for design blogs. My favorites are Department of the Interior and Aesthetic Oiseau.”

Next week, Catherine from U Street Girl is up to bat. Check back on Wednesday for her picks for best date spot, best roof deck, and more in her neighborhood.

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