Learn About Lacquer

Ballard Designs Vintage Lacquer collection

Learn about our vintage lacquer collection, from Ballard Designs

The lacquered look may have originated in Eastern Asia thousands of years ago, but it is as popular as ever today. Much like toile or a Louis chair, lacquered furniture boasts a storied history of a style that has been endlessly reborn. Its true beauty lies in its resilience and versatility to adapt to the trends of the modern age—and that is precisely why we love it.

Ballard Designs Vintage Lacquer

A Time-Honored Craft

The arduous process of lacquering was first developed and recognized as a highly artistic craft in China during the Shang Dynasty. Artisans decorated objects, such as vessels, boxes and trays, using viscous sap painstakingly applied and cured in multiple layers—sometimes up to 20 or more. Ground pigments from charcoal and cinnabar were added to the refined sap to produce color, which is why some of the earliest found lacquered objects are red or black.

The Chinese artistry of lacquering spread to Korea, Japan and Southeast and South Asia, though methods sometimes differed. In India, one type of lacquer was derived from the insect lac. Artisans first extracted a red dye from the insect, then processed the grease that was left of the insect for lacquering.

Ballard Designs vintage lacquer collections

With the rise of colonialism, an interest in lacquered pieces made its way into the Western world, eventually influencing important designers like furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale and designer and architect Eileen Gray. It is Gray who introduced lacquer to the modern form. Just before WWI while living in Paris, Gray learned the ancient art from Japanese lacquerist, Seizo Sugawara. She applied the Asian craft to spare, modern lines, such as her renowned gridded screens, spurring an instant obsession among collectors. The look was elegant, exotic and of the moment.

Ballard Designs vintage lacquer collections

Lacquer Revival

The resurgence of lacquer is a reaction to the rustic textures that dominate interiors today. Lacquered furniture, such as our Lacquer Bombay Chest, serves as a lustrous counterpoint to the washed wood finishes, upholstered benches and woven natural materials. Just one piece of lacquered furniture in a room—a side table, chair or chest—serves as a welcome contrast. Much like a favorite pair of diamond earrings or an armful of gold bangles, the glossy finish adds a touch of glamour without the glitz.

Many designers also love lacquer for its effortless ability to cross between traditional and modern. It works on virtually any style of furniture—and in any decor. It’s possible to see evidence of lacquer’s Asian roots in the curved feet or coloration of a piece, but the finish is equally striking on Bauhaus modern furniture.

Ballard Designs vintage lacquer collections

Ballard Designs vintage lacquer collections

Ballard Designs spin on traditional lacquer

Introducing Vintage Lacquer

We’ve had our eye on the lacquered look for a while, but we had to get the finish just right to fit the Ballard aesthetic. Enter Vintage Lacquer: Not too glossy, with slight distressing on the edges and subtle texture in the brushmarks. Our version of shine is hand applied, layer by layer, to some of our favorite, traditional silhouettes. We reimagined the finish in six different colors, so you can find the perfect piece for your space.

And once again, what’s old feels new again.

Browse our collection of Vintage Lacquer pieces, or find more decorating inspiration by browsing our Pinterest Boards!

How to Decorate Team

We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.


  1. Reply

    Jo Ann Childress

    January 19, 2014

    I really like the vintage lacquer finishes and would like to know where it can be bought. I have a few pieces I would like to paint. Thanks