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It’s coming home, it’s coming home . . .
Regular readers will know that I’m not one to be cynical about over-commercialisation in today’s society. Certainly not. I love every little thing about Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day – the cards, the banners, the inflated prices of flowers, and I just can’t wait for the instigation of Second Cousin Twice Removed’s Day. It’s something we’ve all lacked, and longed for.
So with only a matter of days to go before England embark on their World Cup campaign, I can’t understand why we don’t seem to be inundated with merchandise this time. I’m told that Asda (other supermarkets are available) have gone to town along with the pound shop, but by now I’d expect to have seen England flags adorning every alternate car and van. I think it’s probably because we’ve all listened to the ubiquitous doom and gloom merchants, and are wondering why the England team haven’t saved the F. A. loads of money by pre-booking their flights home on the first available plane after the group stages.
Well I’m having none of it !!! True, my sporting background lies in rugby and squash rather than football (as a primrose path, when I was a lad we in the school rugby team decided to try our hand at football and entered a Sunday league – how hard could it be? After we’d lost our first two games 23 – nil and 31 – 1 we decided we should stick to the oval ball), but I thought that the least I could do was this month to talk about all things English in interiors.
Probably the earliest exponent of English design as a product, and certainly one to set the bar high was William Morris. Associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and one of the founders of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, he and his protégées produced some of the most fashionable and exciting textiles and wallpapers of the late 19th century. Such was his impact on the world of interior design that many of his original fabrics and papers are still available in various guises today.
Undoubtedly one of the most quintessential contemporary English designers is Vivienne Westwood. Although principally a fashion designer and a symbol of British avant-garde, in 2009 she designed a collection of wallpapers for another great British institution Cole & Son. This is the company who hit the headlines in 1998 when the media went bonkers over them supplying Pugin paper for the Lord Chancellor’s office at £350 per roll. I was privileged enough to be at their factory while they were printing it, and saw that it took one very skilled man a whole day to hand block a single roll of paper. I too felt like writing to the papers – to say that it should have cost a lot more !!!
Anyway, I digress. The crowning glory of Vivienne Westwood’s collection of papers is a giant Union Jack, sold in a panel 270cms wide and 150cms high. Could anything be more British ? It’s wonderful, and for the more pedantic among us, I can correctly call it a Union Jack rather than Flag as it’s inspired by an actual antique flag taken from an ancient ship, thus having a fabulous weathered and sun-bleached finish.
In the last couple of years other English fashion designers have as it were crossed the floor to have a go at interior design – and very successfully too. Last year Osborne & Little launched a collection by the renowned Matthew Williamson, consisting of wonderfully opulent papers incorporating holographs and beads, together with luxurious silks and chenille fabrics. And just this spring Romo teamed up with the celebrated English artist Jessica Zoob, and launched a jaw-droppingly good collection of fabrics and papers under their exclusive Romo Black brand, which faithfully interpret her imaginative use of texture and colour, which can best be described as contemporary impressionist.
But we’re really talking here about more of a look than an actual product. The English Country House look is archetypal, instantly recognisable, and a joy to behold. It is achieved by the careful mixing of pattern on pattern, to blend with and bounce off each other. Large florals sit with small florals, stripes and plaids to create a room that is both stimulating and hugely relaxing. Colefax and Fowler have long been the undisputed masters of this craft, with their wonderful range of prints, weaves, embroideries and subtle papers that just exude a quiet English style. Lemons, soft blues and sedate greens, coupled with delicate shades of rose give an air of timelessness. Occasionally you’ll see one of the American companies such as Thibaut try to emulate the look, but for me it never quite comes off.
But you know, the joys of English design are not only for the grown-ups. Jane Churchill’s fabulous nursery collection includes Paddington, Thomas the Tank Engine, and my personal favourite (having been brought up on it, bringing my children up on it, and in the process of introducing it to my grand-daughter) Winnie the Pooh. And I don’t mean the Disney version, I mean the good old English original !!!
John Biddell, John Charles Interiors
Live 24 7 magazine editorial - June 2014