Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alessandra Branca - China With A Twist

Today I have very exciting news-the launch of my new series Chinoiserie Chic Interior Designers. Each week I will feature one of my favorite interior designers. I selected the interior designers who I believe use Chinoiserie in their work most beautifully and effectively. I interviewed each of them about their love of Chinoiserie. You will be absolutely thrilled to see the lineup I have in store. I start today with a favorite of mine, Alessandra Branca. Raised in Rome, her grandfather was an art historian and a critic for the Vatican and her mother is a renowned botanical and natural history artist. She went to college in Lake Forest, Illinois where I grew up and lives in Chicago. I had the great pleasure of meeting her at a cocktail party and book signing in Georgetown in DC in my favorite home she decorated. It is the first home featured below, including a couple of shots of me. I have entitled the feature on Alessandra "China With A Twist" because her use of Chinoiserie is always with historical references, but tweaked. Her interior design style could best be described as embracing comfort, history, style, and whimsy. No wonder she uses Chinoiserie in her work. I have chosen below my favorite rooms of hers that include Chinoiserie elements. First, enjoy my interview with the very talented Alessandra Branca. Next week- Mary McDonald.

How do you use Chinoiserie?

 I use chinoiserie much the way you would use a great spice or ingredient… I love it most anywhere!!!

Why do you like to use Chinoiserie?

 Because it adds an element of fantasy and escapism… it is fun, exotic and chic all at once. I also love the quality of much of 18th and 19th century pieces and the depth they can bring to a room.  I also love to use painted paper and silk which is a classic Chinoiserie element.

What does Chinoiserie add to a room?

It adds a punch…and fantasy and depth…. whether it is a lacquered black, brown or red japanned piece or lacca povera in white, it is always artful and painterly.  It can become the art or sculpture in a room and yet be something practical like an armoire, a chest, a lamp or a dropfront desk. 

 What are your favorite Chinoiserie pieces?

 I love the armoires, mirrors and screens … each clearly is practical but adds an artful touch to a room. Of course I am clearly partial to painted paper and silk panels too!

To what do you attribute Chinoiserie’s appeal for centuries and its recent resurgence?

I think the timeless quality of many of the items can be attributed to the playfulness that is inherent in Chinoiserie as a decorative art.  Because the original pieces were influenced by the Jesuit Kirchner’s diary of his first trip to China, where no one else had been, there was this otherworldly quality to his recollections that inspired artists like Pillement and then later Chippendale and so so many others. We still find that people, myself included, are designing rooms, furniture and decorative accessories inspired by these fantastic concepts.  I suspect that the spirit that drives that influence is very much like the original one which was a fascination for something outside of our day to day life… that we could infuse with playfulness and spirit.


  1. I am very excited about your new series. Mary McDonald and Alessandra Branca are two of my favorite interior designers, and I can't wait to see whom else you include. I particularly like Branca's retrofitted glass shelves and lighting in the Chinoiserie liquor cabinet, and bought her book in large part for that photo. You have been spoiling us lately with so many extra posts and special features. Thank you, and please don't stop!

  2. Great series - Alessandra & Mary are 2 of my all time favorites! Thanks Beth!

  3. I am so excited you are doing this series !! I cannot wait for Mary McDonald, she is one of my favorite designers. Thanks for the continued inspiration !!