Design by nature
Images above courtesy of Morris & Co.
Curtains: Jasmine 234553 Walls: Turkish Blue Throw: Milton 233247 Cushion: Woodland 234556 with Deben 232696
Image above courtesy of Manuel Canovas
I love my garden. In fact I probably enjoy working in it almost as much as sitting in it. It’s been an on-going project for 3 or 4 years now, with me doing a lot of the landscaping myself – not because I’m too tight to employ anyone else to do it, but just because I like it. The final piece in the jigsaw has been a, shall we say, substantial (my wife’s idea) area of decking in the bottom corner. In this case I did employ a splendid craftsman to install it, and a cracking job he’s made of it too !!! Anyway, the other evening I was sitting on said decking and I got to thinking about how nature has influenced the domestic interior over the years.
From early Tudor and Elizabethan times those with money, and indeed some with not so much money, employed local craftsmen to brightly decorate their homes with beautiful hand painted designs. As well as religious themes, these wallpaintings often depicted hunting scenes or lush pastoral landscapes. A few years ago Zoffany released their Arden collection, designed and drawn for them by Melissa White, a mural artist specialising in Elizabethan painted decoration. As a collection it’s still going strong, and I love it. There is a fabulous design called Verdure, based on a late 17th century painted cloth, available as a wide wallpaper and a linen fabric, which depicts a delightful woodland scene. But for me the crowning glory is the fabric after which the collection is named. It’s a recreation of a mid 15th century forest design, discovered in a house in Halifax in 1901, depicting a forest floor richly studded with clusters of small flowers. In amongst the trees are stags, does, and various other creatures to be found in medieval tapestries. It’s available as a printed linen, and a real wow factor velvet. The richness of the reds, emeralds and sapphires has to be seen to be believed.
Another style greatly influenced by nature is that of Toile de Jouy. Jouy-en-Josas is a little town near Versailles, southwest of Paris. Toile simply means canvas or linen cloth, and Jouy represents the abbreviated name of the town. Typical toile motifs tell a story, usually about rural life or historic events, often depicting pastoral scenes. The main characteristic of a toile fabric or wallpaper is its use of only one colour – often a rich raspberry or french blue, on a white or off-white background. These designs were manufactured in France from 1760 by a man called Oberkampf, who opened the first factory in the town of Jouy-en-Josas, which he chose for the quality of its water. Toile de Jouy enjoyed a great resurgence around the millennium, and is still sometimes used today.
William Morris, perhaps the greatest champion, and certainly the best known of the proponents of the arts and crafts movement, was massively inspired by nature. Indeed, his first three repeating wallpaper designs, created in the late 1860s, were Trellis, Daisy and Fruit, all of which are teeming with flowers and, well, fruit. Many of Morris & Company’s most popular designs since have incorporated not only flora but fauna too. Strawberry thief, which first appeared in 1883 and depicts birds pillaging a strawberry patch, was apparently inspired by a real life problem for gardeners. In fact it’s the same problem I’ve recently solved at home, but however hard I look at the fabric, I can’t see the plastic netting over the strawberries. In 2011 Sanderson launched a series of archive collections of fabrics and wallpapers to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Morris & Company in 1861. These were an absolute delight, not only for dedicated Morris fans, but for nature lovers in general. The Woodland Embroideries collection, released in 2015, builds on the theme of nature with a most sumptuous fabric called Jasmine Embroidery, featuring a meandering Jasmine trail embroidered over a printed background of Hawthorn leaves. Woodland Tree Embroidery is a delightfully organic fabric, comprising hand-knotted trees embroidered onto a plain linen cloth, while Woodland Animal has a slightly tongue in cheek feel to it, being a charming monochromatic embroidery depicting boxing hares, squirrels and deer.
Not only has nature been influencing the domestic interior for centuries, it still is. As with everything associated with interior fashion, ideas get recycled, re-interpreted, and re-presented in a way more relevant to current trends and moods. When flock paper first enjoyed it’s resurgence in the noughties, many of the designs were based on flowers. We were then treated to a selection of beaded floral papers a few years back, followed by a selection of fresh florals returning to a more painterly feel. Designs became less formal, with relaxed brush strokes and vivid tones that gently bleed into one another. We even have a collection of the most wonderful, huge painterly flowers, digitally printed in the richest of colours onto a sumptuous velvet fabric. It’s mad as a box of frogs, but utterly magnificent !!
And it’s not only flowers. Trees have been huge over the last few years, with designs ranging from delicate branches covered with oriental blossom, to stark silhouettes of bare trunks and boughs, reminiscent of something from the film The Blair Witch Project. And then of course there’s birds and animals. We’ve already touched on farmyard and country life scenes, but believe me it doesn’t stop there. I can offer you papers and / or fabrics with birds big and small ranging from swallows to flamingoes, and more or less any animal you can think of – horses, fish, cats, dogs, butterflies, elephants, tigers, lions, unicorns . . . I’m just waiting to see a 3 toed tree sloth – now that would be fun !!!!!
John Biddell, John Charles Interiors
Live 24 7 magazine editorial - August 2017
First image below courtesy of Matthew Williamson for Osborne and Little