Arts & Crafts hero Charles Fran­cis An­nes­ley Voy­sey’s wall­pa­pers are mak­ing their way back into con­tem­po­rary homes. Here, we ex­plore the de­signer’s life and work

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In 1927, Charles Fran­cis An­nes­ley Voy­sey (1857–1941) looked back on his ca­reer at a din­ner given to mark his 70th birth­day. ‘The pub­lic was op­posed to birds and, in fact, ev­ery­thing I did,’ he said. ‘My work was never pop­u­lar…’

Though this seems un­duly mod­est, it’s true that Voy­sey’s work is hard to cat­e­gorise; he was var­i­ously linked with the Arts & Crafts move­ment, Gothic de­sign and Modernism. His un­com­pro­mis­ing na­ture made his ca­reer as an ar­chi­tect dif­fi­cult, and he branched out into wall­pa­per and fab­ric de­sign chiefly to make ends meet. How­ever, it’s this work for which he’s now best known. There’s a ro­mance to Voy­sey’s pat­terns – which are dom­i­nated by im­ages of birds, an­i­mals and plant forms – that ac­cords with his rustic ar­chi­tec­tural style. Most of the 50 or so build­ings he com­pleted are large houses, with steep pitched roofs, white façades and tall chim­neys ( his own house, The Or­chard in Chor­ley­wood, is a prime ex­am­ple of his sig­na­ture aes­thetic). They bor­row from tra­di­tional cot­tage and farm­house styles, but with de­tails whit­tled down to the ab­so­lute min­i­mum; a Voy­sey wall­pa­per would likely be the most elab­o­rate thing in­side them.

Voy­sey’s un­usual out­put – un­der­stated with bursts of whimsy – put him out of step with his con­tem­po­raries. Yet to­day, the con­trast feels ab­so­lutely right. Whereas a clas­sic Arts & Crafts in­te­rior can ap­pear over­done to modern eyes, we now ap­pre­ci­ate one beau­ti­ful print used to en­liven an oth­er­wise sim­ple room. A per­fect ex­am­ple is the bath­room in the Lon­don home of de­signer Luke Ed­ward Hall (right), where Voy­sey’s ‘Apothe­cary’s Garden’ pat­tern (sold by Mas­sachusetts-based com­pany Trust­worth, £150 per roll; trust­ is teamed with pan­elling painted in Far­row & Ball’s ‘Pi­geon’ and green metro tiles. ‘I’ve al­ways liked

Voy­sey’s de­signs – they feel op­ti­mistic and very English,’ says Hall. ‘ We used this wall­pa­per in here be­cause I like bath­rooms to feel as com­fort­able and stylish as every other room in the home, with arm­chairs, rugs and so on.’

The ‘Apothe­cary’s Garden’ de­sign, cre­ated in 1926 and in­spired by 17th-cen­tury herbals, fea­tures Voy­sey’s sig­na­ture birds along­side but­ter­flies, crick­ets, blue­bells and berries. Trust­worth stocks sev­eral other de­signs, in­clud­ing the gothic ‘Hem­lock’ (1900) and ‘An­gelic For­est’ (1927), which show him at his most orig­i­nal. Key to their ap­peal is the de­signer’s joy­ous use of colour. Spring greens, poppy reds and hy­acinth blues are ap­plied with a del­i­cate hand: ‘Na­ture,’ Voy­sey once said, ‘never al­lows her colours to quar­rel’.

These pa­pers are thus ide­ally suited to team­ing with modern neutrals, al­though Hall takes a bolder view. ‘I would love to de­sign a room us­ing a Voy­sey wall­pa­per and a bright colour on the ceil­ing,’ he says. ‘His flo­rals would also look great with Ital­ian mid-cen­tury fur­ni­ture and 1970s light­ing.’

Other Voy­sey pat­terns sug­gest dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties. ‘Ler­ena’ from San­der­son’s ‘Chiswick Grove’ col­lec­tion (£60 per roll; styleli­­der­son) fea­tures a print taken from the Voy­sey archive of birds, flow­ers and fo­liage and comes in soft blues and greens that com­ple­ment pale wood fur­ni­ture. The ‘Lioness and Palms’ wall­pa­per (£140 per roll, Com­mon­room; com­mon­ shows yet an­other face of the artist. Based on a wa­ter­colour from 1918, this blue and gold de­sign begs to be paired with dark timber. Which­ever you choose, keep it sim­ple – as Voy­sey once said, ‘Better frank simplicity than sham elab­o­ra­tion’. For more info, read ‘CFA Voy­sey: Arts & Crafts De­signer’ by Karen Liv­ing­stone, Max Don­nelly and Linda Parry (£40, V&A Books)

Bed­room ‘Temp­ta­tion’ wall­pa­per, £150 per roll, Trust­worth (trust­ dec­o­rates this home in the coun­try­side near New York Wall­pa­pers, from left ‘ Wood­land Car­pet’ and ‘The Pur­ple Bird’, both £150 per roll, Trust­worth (trust­ ‘Lioness...

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