What Is Chintz? The Historic Textile’s Cozy Comeback

These vibrant florals have been part of home decor for hundreds of years. Here’s how to embrace the look today.

chintz headboard in striped bedroom with quilt

Tria Giovan

A decorating staple, chintz has brought color and pattern into homes for centuries. “The use of damask, florals, and even fruits in traditional chintz bring forth a cozy and familiar comfort,” says Carol Miller, marketing manager at York Wallcoverings.

Chintz refers to a cotton fabric with many vibrant colors, usually in floral motifs, that originated in India. The decorative pattern was printed, dyed, or painted on simple cotton fabric called calico, and often received a glazed finish. Today, the term is often more broadly used to describe floral patterns.

living room slipcovered sofa floral curtains window seat cushions
John Bessler

A Brief History of Chintz

Indian chintz was introduced to European markets in the 1600s, and it became a wildly popular textile for upholstery, decor, and clothing. Eventually, similar techniques and designs were adapted by European manufacturers, who produced styles such as the Victoria and Albert chintz, which added the profiles of English monarchs to the fabric’s hallmark flowers.

Chintz’s current ubiquity has been building for the last few years, thanks in great part to its placement smack dab in the middle of two recent design trends: granny chic (aka grandmillennial) and biophilia.

Although its popularity has ebbed and flowed, chintz has never gone out of style. Its most recent revival was in the 1980s, when designers like Laura Ashley and Mario Buatta became synonymous with the pattern. Chintz could be found covering any available surface in the home, repeated on lampshades, furniture, walls, floors, and window coverings. 

Now, chintz is back at home again, thanks in part to trends in maximalist decor and a return to more traditional design styles. “Chintz’s current ubiquity has been building for the last few years, thanks in great part to its placement smack dab in the middle of two recent design trends: granny chic (aka grandmillennial) and biophilia,” says Anthony Barzilay Freund, editorial director and director of fine art at 1stDibs. “The former made popular the patterns, styles, and materials favored by grandparents stretching back to Victorian days, while the latter placed an emphasis on themes and motifs found in nature.”

floral sofa chintz fabric in living room

Laurey Glenn

How to Decorate with Chintz

Historically, chintz textiles were used on floors, windows, and furniture, as well as bedding and decorative linens like pillow covers and table linens. It’s also been closely linked with traditional decor. But chintz-inspired patterns have expanded beyond fabric to be found on everything from wallpaper to pottery.

Despite the passage of time, chintz is timeless and can complement any design aesthetic.

“The beauty of chintz lies in its ability to infuse a space with a sense of natural elegance, thanks to its crisp colors and freshness,” says Leigh Jones, principal designer at The Very Thing, Ltd. “Despite the passage of time, chintz is timeless and can complement any design aesthetic.”

Check out these expert tips for bringing the color and pattern of chintz into today’s interior designs. 

Play with Color

“Today we’re seeing fresh new takes on chintz-style patterns through the addition of contemporary, energizing colors,” says Miller. New peel-and-stick Erin & Ben Co. wallpaper is an example of how refreshed chintz can brighten walls. Chintz patterns in different colorways, like crisp neon, vibrant pastels, or trendy jewel tones, offer a more contemporary spin. Or try a monochrome chintz for something a little more subdued to play in a modern setting.

Instead of a traditional neutral background, look for an updated chintz printed on something as vibrant and saturated as the pattern itself. For an accent, lean toward rich browns: cottagey whites feel reminiscent of the 1980s chintz craze, but today’s trendy neutral is a natural companion to the nature-inspired floral motifs. 

Make It a Focal Point

“Not everyone has an eye for art, and not everyone is an art collector. I believe a chintz pattern can remedy that situation by becoming the focal point of any room,” says Jones. Oversized upholstered furniture is an easy way to make a statement. For a modern approach, try mixing the traditional print with a contemporary form. “Using chintz in an unexpected manner on pieces you wouldn’t initially imagine could wear it well, like this Moroccan tête-à-tête, is perhaps the most effective way to make it feel modern,” says Freund. A trendy low-slung, overstuffed sofa with colorful chintz upholstery is another example. 

Rifle Paper Co. floral wallpaper in bathroom

Courtesy of York Wallcoverings

Be Intentional

A key to successfully incorporating colorful patterns like chintz is being intentional with color choices throughout the room. When adding chintz to a space, pull at least one color from the pattern into other accents. If you’re decorating around a chintz focal point, use it to inspire other surfaces, like the wall paint or a textured accent rug. Like with all decorating, the intentional repetition of color—whether it’s hung from the wall, on the bed, or covering a piece of furniture—makes a pattern feel incorporated into the room rather than a detached design element.

Go All Out

Don’t be afraid to return to the excess of the 1980s and embrace maximalist decorating with chintz. Contemporary chintz patterns, modern furniture, and sleeker lines in architectural details combine to create a fresh look. Unlike the coordinated chintz of the '80s, try contrasts in color and scale. “Going all out in a small space with chintz upon chintz upon contrasting chintz could be pretty trippy and wonderful too,” says Freund. “Beyond the seating, walls, window treatments, throw pillows, and lampshades are all fair game.” Enhance chintz prints with other lush textiles like velvet, and decorate with plants for a real-life complement to the flora-inspired pattern.

yellow living room chairs with floral chintz draperies

Courtesy of Leigh Jones

Layer It In 

Although it makes an eye-catching design, chintz does not have to be a statement piece. “Simply adding chintz pillows can carry a space,” says Jones. Chintz does not have to be the only pattern in the room, either. In fact, pattern mixing is a modern way to bring chintz into your home. Pair the detailed motifs with a simple check for something cozy, or contrast it with a bold graphic print for a modern edge. “As with any decor that feels of this moment, it’s all about the mix,” says Freund. “A great chintz-upholstered armchair would look amazing in a room filled with a robust mix of modern and contemporary furniture and art,” says Freund. “It’s the conversation among these different styles and periods that makes for a memorable space.”

Make It Work for You

“Chintz can be used in a wide range of applications, but looks and performs best as draperies and upholstery,” says Jones. “I have found that because of the finish on the cloth, chintz is not only durable and long-lasting, but has incredible resistance to dirt and small spills.” The colorful pattern also makes chintz a practical visual solution. Incorporating chintz into hard-working surfaces and busy family rooms takes advantage of the pattern’s natural ability to camouflage things like scuffs or stains while elevating the space’s style and personality.

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