Dainty damask gets a the­atri­cal up­date

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Interiors -

The re­turn of the silk-wo­ven print can bridge the gap be­tween pe­riod and modern tastes, says Emily Brooks

From the table­cloths of neigh­bour­hood Ital­ian restau­rants to the sump­tu­ous cur­tains hang­ing in English coun­try houses, one pat­tern dom­i­nates: damask. In the ma­jor wall­pa­per and fab­ric brands’ last round of new launches, there was a swell of damask de­signs. While it might be thought of as a tra­di­tional op­tion, the most in­ter­est­ing col­lec­tions have a twist – whether that means fash­ion-led colours or a re­bel­lious reimag­in­ing of the pat­tern it­self.

Damask refers to a weav­ing tech­nique, as well as the ver­ti­cal pat­tern of scrolling, stylised flow­ers, leaves and feath­ers with which it is syn­ony­mous. Orig­i­nally wo­ven in silk, this op­u­lent fab­ric lined the walls of the finest houses and palaces, with pro­duc­tion spread­ing across Europe from Italy. By the 18th cen­tury, Eng­land had its own silk-weav­ing in­dus­try to serve the well-heeled.

“Wealthy Ge­or­gian home own­ers em­braced a range of styles to pur­port an im­age of pros­per­ity, worldly trav­els and one-up­man­ship.

“Damask fab­rics would have been used to up­hol­ster fur­ni­ture, hung as drap­ery and made into dec­o­ra­tive wall pan­els in larger rooms,” says Andy Greenall, head of de­sign at paint and wall­pa­per com­pany Lit­tle Greene.

“What made damasks more pop­u­lar in the Vic­to­rian era was the evo­lu­tion of wall­pa­per print­ing presses, which meant these large de­signs could be copied and printed rel­a­tively eas­ily on pa­per, and hung on the walls of an equally as­pi­ra­tional – but per­haps less wealthy – home­owner.”

Lit­tle Greene has in­cluded two damask wall­pa­pers in its new Lon­don Pa­pers IV col­lec­tion, in­spired by frag­ments from English Her­itage’s ar­chives. Palace Road is a de­sign based on a late-19th-cen­tury silk wall­cov­er­ing found in a south-west Lon­don house. Lit­tle has been done to change the scale or re­draw the de­sign, so it’s an au­then­tic slice of his­tory, and the silk-like back­ground tex­ture nods to the wall­cov­er­ing’s ori­gins as a fab­ric rather than a pa­per.

Damask can help bridge the gap be­tween pe­riod ar­chi­tec­ture and more modern tastes, says Greenall. “Us­ing an au­then­tic his­tor­i­cal wall­pa­per de­sign can en­hance the qual­ity of a modern re­fur­bish­ment, bring­ing sub­tle char­ac­ter to an in­te­rior where the real dan­ger is los­ing all of it.

“Damask pat­terns are an easy way to let the de­sign ac­knowl­edge an his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence, and the colour pro­vides a con­tem­po­rary back­drop to fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories.”

Greenall puts the pat­tern’s pop­u­lar­ity down to the fact it’s not so bold that it can’t har­monise eas­ily with ev­ery­thing else.

“It gives an ‘all-over’ feel, be­cause there isn’t a strong fo­cal point in the de­sign,” he says. “It can be a very ef­fec­tive way of mak­ing a sim­ple but strong colour state­ment.”

Cole & Son also looked to the 18th and 19th cen­turies for its Mari­in­sky Damask wall­pa­pers. Named af­ter St Peters­burg’s im­pe­rial theatre, the col­lec­tion cel­e­brates the op­u­lent, the­atri­cal side of damask – in­clud­ing, in the case of its Petrouchka de­sign, the re­turn of flocked wall­cov­er­ings.

“Although damask is a tra­di­tional mo­tif, we like to have fun and recre­ate these grand old pa­pers us­ing ei­ther a more modern or a more sur­pris­ing tech­nol­ogy,” says Cole & Son’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Shauna Den­ni­son.

“I think we’ve been quite brave in rein­tro­duc­ing the flock print. It is an old tech­nique, orig­i­nally de­vised to mimic vel­vet, and has very tra­di­tional con­no­ta­tions.

“How­ever, with the use of colour we have tried to make it more in­ter­est­ing, with pearly grey on black, for ex­am­ple, or rich ma­rine blue.”

There are also more del­i­cate tonal de­signs that give a much more sub­tle im­pres­sion, with a back­ground of pearly lus­tre adding depth.

Fab­ric mak­ers en­joy a sub­tle play with tra­di­tion. Beau­mont & Fletcher, known for its clas­sic English style, sells a silk and cot­ton damask, Leonora, where the pat­tern is highly three-di­men­sional, al­most puffed out, and Wick­low, where the out­line of the pat­tern has a soft, blurred ap­pear­ance.

Rather than go for deep, jewel colours, there’s a soft pal­ette of rust reds and neu­trals – per­fect for if you’re try­ing to cre­ate a quiet, livedin look.

Sump­tu­ous, high-qual­ity damask fab­rics are still made in this coun­try, by Suf­folk weavers Gains­bor­ough, for ex­am­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to the firm’s de­sign man­ager Do­minique Ca­plan, the fab­ric “has been heav­ily sought af­ter by our clients through­out the years, and con­tin­ues to be”.

Gains­bor­ough re­cently launched a col­lec­tion with de­signer Karen Beauchamp, who has up­dated ar­chive fab­rics with modern colour­ways, such as the lime green silk Sor­rento fab­ric, or the pale pink of Cathay, a chinoiseri­e de­sign dat­ing from 1918.

For some­thing truly dif­fer­ent, which goes fur­ther than a sub­tle twist on a clas­sic, look to Glas­gow wall­pa­per and fab­ric com­pany Tim­o­rous Beast­ies.

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of the fact that damask is so ubiq­ui­tous that it is ripe for sub­ver­sion, many of its de­signs have a sin­is­ter un­der­tone, re­plac­ing be­nign flo­rals with inky Rorschach blots and over­laid skulls.

Per­haps it proves that damask re­ally is the pat­tern for every­one – whether you like your in­te­ri­ors deeply tra­di­tional or dark and dan­ger­ous.

Bold: Petrouchka wall­pa­per by Cole & Son, above, is £140 per roll; Leonora fab­ric by Beau­mont & Fletcher, be­low, is £160 per me­tre; Palace Road wall­pa­per by Lit­tle Greene, left, is £71 per roll

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