I am lucky enough to work at House & Garden, where photographs of houses much more sophisticated than my own flit across my desk every day, providing plenty of inspiration for how to achieve a decorative alchemy of print and pattern.
There’s a lot to be said for a streamlined existence. I imagine it might be rather satisfying to inhabit a world of spotless marble worktops and clean white walls, but alas I lack the gene that allows for such slick living. I call my natural habitat colourful. Others might call it chaotic. But whatever adjective you favour, I think there is an argument for colour, texture and pattern.
For centuries we have adorned our homes — think of medieval tapestries, 17th-century flock wallpapers and William Morris fabrics. Warp stripes — the long thread across which the weft is woven back and forth — were once the simplest and cheapest way to pattern cloth and stripes soon became a staple in decoration; when manipulated, the warp and weft threads can be used to construct tartan, damask, ikat or batik. Likewise the addition of multiple bisecting lines culminated in the intricate geometry of Moorish mosaics and fine Gothic tracery. Prior to mechanised production, more elaborate pattern was labour-intensive and therefore expensive, thus rich embellishment was largely the domain of royalty, the military and the church, with damasks, brocades and embroideries travelling along the Silk Road from the Middle Ages onwards.
From the 1840s wallpaper took on a wider range of meanings, depicting historical, sporting or pastoral scenes. It is said that Wellington had a room papered in newspaper reports of his victories.
The introduction of mechanised printing and weaving played an important role in the evolution of pattern; hand-blocked prints were soon replaced by copperplate printing, then roller printing, perrotine printing, screen printing and now digital printing.
This month sees the launch of the new season’s collections from wallpaper companies and fabric houses across the globe: a bright, splashy array of zigzags, florals, moires, ombrés, checks, spots, stars — a call to arms for pattern and colour.
Lulu Lytle, co-founder of design emporium Soane Britain (soane.co.uk), has long been enamoured by ‘all things eastern’. ‘I was first influenced by the incredible Ottoman paintings by artists such as Ingres and Liotard where you might see as many as 15 different textiles decorating one magnificent sultan or harem beauty.’
Since studying Egyptology and ancient history she has amassed a collection of furniture, lighting, pictures, textiles, sculpture, carpets and objects from all over the Arab world and India. ‘I was keen to house these things all together in one room — hence the creation of the den,’ she says. This carefully curated mix of objects, pictured above, is set against ‘a perfect pink backdrop’ — a rosy shade based on painted Roman and Indian sandstone buildings and ‘the magical way they reflect light’.
A Soane-made ‘Cub’ chair has been upholstered in a jewel-coloured silk weave based on a 19th-century Syrian textile. Lulu was keen to use reflective turquoise tiles for the fireplace interior, so was ‘delighted’ to find these ones being made by Habibi Tiles (habibi-interiors.com); the brass shark’s tooth fire surround was designed by antique dealer Peter Twining and the rattan ‘Halma Man’ table is woven in Soane’s Leicestershire workshop. ‘I love rattan for its versatility, charm and sustainability,’ says Lulu. Perhaps harder to source is the 19th-century Tibetan trumpet!
‘Creating a balance between pattern, colour, history, luxury and ultimately what is modern is the key to creating a design language,’ says Anthony Baratta (anthonybaratta.com). The white panelled entrance hall of this New York apartment (left) is a case in point. ‘The scheme is a subtle play on the painting by Joan Mitchell. The whole room is expressed in the loose structure of the painting and the tight structure of the rug, inspired by the artwork of Frank Stella — colour and pattern are what inspired us in this project.’
Joan Mitchell is acknowledged as a central figure, and one of the few female artists, in the second generation of American Abstract Expressionists. Her canvases are awash with whirling, painterly smears, drips, smatters and strokes in kaleidoscopic colours: the perfect unruly pattern to anchor a room. Pictured below is another of her paintings, ‘Sunflowers’ (1991).
The rug is by Diamond Baratta Design but for something similar a little closer to home consider a hand-knotted design by Luke Irwin (lukeirwin.com).
Madeline Weinrib (madelineweinrib.com) lives in an industrial loft above a small museum in New York’s SoHo, pictured on page 43. This sun-filled apartment perfectly showcases her penchant for combining pattern; Beni Ourain rugs sit comfortably alongside geometric upholstery and spotted pillows.
The palette in the bedroom takes its inspiration from Madeline’s collection of blue and white ceramics — inky, indigo hues are mixed with black and more neutral shades. The effect is a chic clash of print and colour that bears witness to her tastes and travels.