Above image - Copyright Morris & Co.
April showers bring forth May flowers
Above image - Copyright Morris & Co.
Although we certainly didn’t see many showers in April (my hydrangeas were positively wilting by the middle of the month !!!), we can look forward to the glorious burst of colour as gardens fully re-awaken and put on their summer clothes once again.
This month I’d like to talk about the influence of nature, both historical and on-going, in the world of interior design.
From early Tudor and Elizabethan times folks with 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 historical 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. Latterly the Pure Morris collections of wallpapers, prints and exquisite weaves continue to re-interpret the nature theme beautifully in soft neutral hues.
Today nature’s influence on interior design is as strong as ever. 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 plethora 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. For the last few seasons major design houses like Osborne and Little and Designers Guild have delighted us with collections of full-on pictorial flowers, many of which are in the form of magnificent whole-wall panel wallcoverings.
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 flamingos (Mulberry Home’s famous flying ducks are back in new colours and textures), and more or less any animal you can think of – horses, fish, cats, dogs, butterflies, elephants, tigers, lions, unicorns . . . In fact I can even offer you a blushing sloth in Moooi’s fabulous and fantastical Extinct Animals collection.
While influences tend to come and go in line with fashions and trends, the perennial, almost boundless source of inspiration that is nature will always be a major factor in the world of interior design.
John Biddell, John Charles Interiors
Live 24 7 magazine editorial - MAY 2021