Britain’s political climate may be gloomy, but on the decor front the sun is shining. Young designers and established firms are crafting furniture, lighting and accessory collections that celebrate vintage patterns, tweak the traditional and offer a new take on British history.
There are porter’s chairs, for instance, from the rebel luxury brand Jimmie Martin. Though the classic chairs’ interiors are upholstered in luxe velvets and leathers, the cowl-like hooded backs are covered in graffiti. The effect is a little rococo, a little rock ‘n’ roll.
There are lighting fixtures from Lee Broom, who began his career as a teenage protégé of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. The Carousel pendant’s ring of gunmetal or brass cylinders is tipped with opal glass diffusers. Broom’s inspiration? “The nostalgic merry-go-rounds of a traditional British fairground.”
Glasgow design house Timorous Beasties is known for avant-garde takes on traditional patterns for wallcoverings and fabrics. There’s Bloomsbury Garden, a lush flora and fauna pattern that celebrates the fashionable and famous London neighborhood. Get it in wallpaper, fabric or cushion form. Here too is the Thistle pattern, with the Scottish flower’s tufts and spikes placed against saturated hues like crimson, aubergine and earth.
Lancashire legacy wallpaper firm Graham & Brown was also inspired by Bloomsbury when creating its paper of the year. In this case, it was the Bloomsbury set, a group of early 20th century artists, writers and thinkers who pushed against the constraints of Victorian and Edwardian society. Bloomsbury Neo-Mint is a lush, country-garden floral print on a soigne, pale green background. A complementary paint color has also been created: Adeline, a deep bottle-green (named for Bloomsbury group member Virginia Woolf, whose first name was actually Adeline.)
Mosaic maker New Ravenna has launched the Bright Young Things collection, inspired by the glamorous, jazzy exuberance of London’s social scene in the 1920s. Patterns evocative of art deco and the bohemian spirit of the era are translated into tumbled, polished stone trimmed with brushed metallics.
Even teacups have been given a refresh. Royal Worcester, one of England’s oldest porcelain makers, has Hannah Dale’s whimsical Wrendale Designs collection, inspired by the artist’s Stoke-on-Trent studio home. Woodland bird and animal watercolor drawings are printed on fine bone china.
Royal Doulton references the year John Doulton started the London pottery company with the new 1815 collection of handcrafted porcelain tableware, trimmed with vibrant hues and stamped with the date.
Designer Timothy Oulton is known for updating such iconic pieces as chesterfield sofas and lounge chairs by playing with scale or adding dramatic upholstery. Side tables reference old leather school trunks, British aircraft or regimental drums. It’s all done with reverence for the original pieces.
“We take inspiration from a range of eras and cultures, but I’ve always had a fascination for British craftsmanship,” Oulton said. “My dad opened his own antiques shop when he retired from the Army, and that’s where I fell in love with the classic British craftsmanship ethos that pervaded the late 19th and early 20th century. Things were built to last generations.”
At the height of the British Empire, he said, “British artisans had access to any beautiful material from anywhere in the world, and the stuff the British made had this unique sense of permanence and purpose.”
He’s got a soft spot for one British item, and it’s not a piece of furniture.
“There’s a guy named Ben Shillingford who started making lighters for Dunhill in 1949 and I’ve bought every one that I can — I have around 200,” Oulton said. “They’re presented beautifully, all made by one man, by hand, and I’m still spellbound when I look at one of them.”