"I'm a Baroque person. More than Baroque, I'm a Rococo person. I don't draw straight lines"
- Nuno Roque
What is the Rococo?
The Rococo style is sometimes referred to as Late Baroque and has always been famous for being exuberant, feminine and light with a gilded elegance.
Key elements of this decorative style:
Sensuous curvy lines
Soft pastel colours
Stylized acanthus leaves and flowers
C & S shaped scrolls and shells
Where does the Rococo come from?
The Baroque style during the reign of Louis XIV was very serious, full of heavy ornament and drama. The perfect style to express power and control. Understandably it became very popular with the aristocracy of the time who used it to intimidate visitors. Think Palace of Versailles...
The term Rococo comes from the French word Rocaille and the Italian Baroco (end of the Baroque style). Rocaille refers to "rock work", a kind of plaster sculpted to look like rock. Before the 1700's, it was used to create fanciful grottoes in the gardens of the aristocracy. By the early 1700's, rocaille techniques were also being used indoors by French plasterers and the term was used to refer to the delicate scrolling patterns of stucco on walls, ceilings and wood panelling.
Although the Louis XV style, the Rocaille ornaments and the Rococo style are often used to refer to the same thing, it was the Rococo style that developed throughout Europe.
During the Régence (the regency period from the death of Louis XIV until Louis XV came of age in 1723), the king's government was moved from Versailles to Paris as the regent, Duc d'Orleans, preferred city life to the country. The aristocracy quickly followed and this led to a flood of renovation and interior decoration in Paris as everyone needed to catch up with the latest interior fashions.
At this time, hardly any new houses were being built in Paris, it was mainly the existing spaces that were renovated and decorated. The apartments in Paris were smaller than the houses at Versailles and the salons were used for intimate and informal gatherings. Domestic spaces became very elegant and comfortable and the feel of the new Rococo interiors were much gayer and less intimidating than the earlier Baroque spaces.
The general public never got to see this new elegance as the outside of these townhouses were still in the classical forms of the previous century. The Rococo style was exclusively used by the upper-classes and by 1735, it had become the decorating style of the aristocracy.
In England, Thomas Chippendale published his The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director in 1754 which provided a guide for intricate chinoiserie furniture and its decoration. He created a trademark style which was a blend of Rococo with Chinese and gothic elements. This style was the basis of "English" Rococo. (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
What does Rococo look like?
The Rococo originated as a form of interior design and it was a style that focused mainly on interiors. Where the Baroque style was dramatic, bold and grand with contrasting colours, the Rococo was light, playful and delicate with gentle shades of pastel colours.
The Rococo style is famous for its attention to detail and elaborate decoration. Wooden panelling with decorative carvings included acanthus leaves, flowers, C & S shaped scrolls, shells and so on.
In the words of Gavin Bailey in Baroque and Rococo: "Primarily a style of surface ornament, the Rococo relegated sculpture and painting to secondary roles and used gilding to compartmentalize walls, mirrors and ornamental panels."
During the Rococo, the scale and design of furniture became more elegant and delicate with applied ornamentation on everything from mirrors to candle holders. Seating became more comfortable as it was required by the new taste for smaller and comfortable gatherings. Curving forms were seen everywhere and the gently S-curved Cabriole leg shape became popular.
Adding a touch of Rococo to your own home
Here is something to think about if you want to add a touch of Rococo design to your home:
Forget about symmetry and think along the lines of sweeping forms, seashells and scrolls
Add a piece of furniture with curved legs and sensuous shapes
Go for patterns full of flowers, birds, animals and leaves
Introduce one piece in the Rococo style into a modern or minimal interior. The fine detail and craftsmanship of the Rococo piece will contrast perfectly with the minimal setting.
Opt for white and pastel shades
Adding a Rococo mirror is a very easy way to add some French style
Think about using fabric or wallpaper with a Rococo pattern to add a touch of Rococo elegance to your scheme.
Famous for its gilded glamour and pastel shades, the Rococo style is a well-loved style in interior design. It's seductive, witty, often playful but always elegant. If you want to add a touch of glamour and elegance to your home, you can't really go wrong with Rococo.