SUCH STUFF AS DREAMS ARE MADE ON… A bedroom favourite returns
Nostalgia at its loveliest, with an affectionate revival of the headboard
Few household furnishings divide opinion as decisively as the upholstered headboard. Loved by traditionalists, loathed by modernists, they are an instant signifier of your entire attitude to interior decoration. They exude comfort and decadence, and have done for centuries, whether in the boudoirs of the Regency belles who spent mornings lounging in bed, quaffing cups of hot chocolate, or those of Hollywood’s Golden Age starlets reclining in their negligees amid masses of pale-pink satin.
The last couple of years have seen an upsurge in the headboard’s popularity; along with the reappearance of patterned wallpaper, colourful fabrics and gloss paint, they herald a move away from neutral palettes and Scandinavian minimalism. The interior decorator Kit Kemp has long been a champion of this bedroom staple, creating statement pieces that lend character and life to the many rooms of the 10 hotels that comprise the Firmdale Hotels empire.
‘Headboards add scale to a bedroom – they act as a centrepiece and allow you to show off a really beautiful fabric,’ says Kemp, who works with Chelsea Textiles and Fine Cell Work to produce hand-embroidered designs. ‘We often commission artists to craft special pieces – they treat the surface as they would a canvas. A headboard is the perfect excuse to be creative; you can use a found fabric, or even a remnant mounted onto black cloth.’
Kemp is so well known for her use of upholstered headboards that she has almost single-handedly popularised the trend. ‘We get customers ringing up saying that they want a “Kit Kemp-style” piece,’ says Laura Kelway-bamber, who founded the Headboard Workshop with her husband Euan six years ago. ‘Previously, they would choose a style to match the rest of their room, but recently that process seems to have reversed and people are looking for something that stands out.’
Kelway-bamber’s workshops are based in rural Wales, where everything is handmade by skilled craftsmen. Their customers tend to favour deep-buttoned classic models, although requests for patterned textiles are on the rise.
Another interior decorator with a long-standing appreciation of the headboard is Tara Craig, who launched Ensemblier in 2014, after realising that there were few places to buy shaped and custom-size versions in the UK. She drew on historic silhouettes and invented her own designs, liaising with a network of upholsterers across the UK. Each headboard is constructed using traditional methods, giving them a structure and springiness that is built to last. The bulk of her trade comes from professional decorators such as Turner Pocock and Rita Konig, who like the bespoke options and high-quality finish.
‘Headboards are a piece of furniture in their own right,’ says Craig. ‘They make a good investment, as you can take them with you if you move house – simply unhook them from the wall or unbolt them from the bed. And a well-made headboard lasts for ever – they’re a bit like a sofa in that they can just be re-covered, while keeping the basic form.’
‘I feel that there’s so much hostility in the world at the moment that people are seeking comfort and softness in their own homes,’ Craig continues. ‘That slightly “granny” look with tassels and trims has come back around again. It’s the perennial situation where each generation hates their parents’ furniture but the successive one absolutely loves it.’
And while the bold fabrics and fantastical shapes of contemporary headboards feel very much of the moment, they also evoke the spirit of a different era, a sense of romance and a licence to dream. Kit Kemp (www.firmdalehotels.com). The Headboard Workshop (www.theheadboardworkshop.co.uk). Ensemblier (www.ensemblierlondon.com).
above: a covent garden hotel room designed by kit kemp. below: kemp in her design studio
below, below right and opposite: headboards by ensemblier