Water­colour mem­o­ries

We cel­e­brate Carolyn Quar­ter­maine, the Bri­tish de­signer who takes an artis­tic ap­proach to life and work

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Elle Decoration - Words DI­NAH HALL Pho­tog­ra­phy LUKE WHITE

Bri­tish de­signer Carolyn Quar­ter­maine’s home in Provence shows off her dreamy (uniquely Bri­tish) work

Carolyn Quar­ter­maine, as ethe­real as her gos­samer-like

fab­rics, is hard to pin down. She is some­where be­tween an artist and de­signer, her life di­vided be­tween her homes in Lon­don and Provence. She has been a con­stant pres­ence on the in­te­ri­ors scene and on mag­a­zine front cov­ers around the world for over 30 years, yet her style has never dated. It’s a style that was born of child­hood mem­o­ries of an­tiques-filled Re­gency Chel­tenham houses and an early teenage pas­sion for the ro­man­tic hazy pho­to­graphs of Deb­o­rah Turbeville and Sarah Moon, il­lu­mi­nated with a spark of the post­punk an­ar­chic en­ergy that char­ac­terised 1980s de­sign.

Quar­ter­maine is at an age when she can look back and see quite clearly the thread that pulls her life and work to­gether. She had a peri­patetic child­hood: her fa­ther’s work up­rooted the fam­ily from Chel­tenham to live in Hol­land and France, so that ev­ery cou­ple of years she changed not only schools but lan­guages. This dis­rup­tion places a sig­nif­i­cance on the home and the sta­bil­ity it rep­re­sents. She re­mem­bers her ob­ses­sion with dolls houses: ‘I would cre­ate my own rooms on planks of wood. In a sense what I did later – mak­ing flex­i­ble spa­ces, mov­ing walls, chang­ing en­vi­ron­ments through tex­tiles and colour – is what I did as a child’.

When Quar­ter­maine was 17, the fam­ily moved back to Eng­land and she found the place where she truly be­longed: art school in Chel­tenham. Here she re­ceived a ground­ing in prac­ti­cal skills like weld­ing and wood­work as well as ap­plied arts. At the Royal Col­lege of Art she de­vel­oped her trade­mark style of col­lage and lay­er­ing, and after grad­u­at­ing worked hard to get her pieces seen. ‘ You have to tread the streets, and it’s tough – peo­ple aren’t go­ing to come to you. I re­call board­ing a coach to Paris and lug­ging my work round all the beau­ti­ful dec­o­rat­ing shops to ask them to look at it,’ she says.

A meet­ing with Richard Stu­art-lib­erty in 1986 led to her be­ing given an en­tire floor of Lib­erty to show her painted ta­bles, neo­baroque metal fur­ni­ture and exquisite cal­lig­ra­phy fab­rics. In the mid 1990s, Joseph Et­tedgui, the late fash­ion en­tre­pre­neur, gave her a shop in his base­ment in Sloane Street, Lon­don. But her home has al­ways been the most im­por­tant cre­ative launch­pad for her work. The flat in Earls Court, where she has lived for thirty years, and her 17th-cen­tury house in France are like liv­ing mood­boards, re­flect­ing sub­tle changes in her art. ‘It’s never about fill­ing a space,’ she says. ‘It’s about look­ing at a chair as you would a paint­ing. I can’t bear “girly pretty” so I would put a stronger ob­ject like a rock next to the chair,’ she ex­plains. This ex­per­i­men­ta­tion at home fed into de­signs for Donna Karan, pa­per­weights for Bac­carat, and pack­ag­ing for Fort­num and Ma­son. There have also been in­te­ri­ors for ho­tels and restau­rants – most no­tably the breath­tak­ing in­te­rior of Glade at Sketch, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with for­mer lover, Bel­gian artist Di­dier Mahieu. Next year a col­lec­tion of her work will be on dis­play at the beau­ti­ful Frag­o­nard Mu­seum in Grasse, France.

Since re­cov­er­ing from breast cancer five years ago Quar­ter­maine’s work has be­come more re­flec­tive. ‘I may look strong and fo­cused to the out­side world, but the doubt is al­ways there. The fear of some­thing not be­ing good enough, the de­sire to do some­thing bet­ter. That’s what drives me.’ car­olyn­quar­ter­maine.com

From top Carolyn Quar­ter­maine be­side the pool at her home in Provence. This 17th-cen­tury house is the per­fect back­drop to her can­vases, fab­rics and the vi­gnettes of in­spi­ra­tional ob­jects that dec­o­rate ta­bles and shelves ➤

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.