Civilizations have embraced florals in clothing and decoration for thousands of years - think Egyptian ceramics, ancient Greek and Turkish decorative tiles, Renaissance tapestries, embroideries from 12th century Japan and China. By 1680, Dutch and Portuguese traders brought over a million “chint” items to Europe, chiefly woodblock prints on calico cotton from Calicut, India. “Chint”, now known as chintz, comes from the Hindu word for pattern or spots. George Washington evidently ordered 96 yards of “chintz” paper for Mount Vernon. By the mid-1800s with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, floral fabric was being produced in Europe, replacing Indian wood block designs with loose, full blown floral bouquets. The fabric was often glazed, and beloved by Victorians as an easy-care alternative to slipcover formal silks, damasks, and velvet, while embracing their obsession for gardening and nature. Today, chintz is a term used loosely to refer to a floral design, but strictly speaking, cotton must have a glazed finish to be called chintz.
Since Victoria, many well-known designers have firmly established florals as a forever design that never goes out of style. At the end of the 19th century, Albert Liberty in partnership with William Morris, a champion of the Arts and Crafts movement, began printing some of their most distinctive nature-inspired designs, still highly recognizable and collectible today. By the 1930’s, John Fowler had created the insanely popular English country house look with some of his most enduring iconic floral chintz, still highly sought after today. Fowler adored chintz because he wanted “the garden to spill into his rooms.” The 60’s introduced more happy hippie florals and who doesn’t remember the ugly 70s – shades of avocado, mustard, and brown floral upholstery? We have Mario Buatta, the “Prince of Chintz” to thank for a resurgence of classic garden-inspired floral chintz.
Today virtually every textile firm will have florals in their line. For the most venerable firms, consider Beacon Hill, Brunschwig, Cowtan and Tout, GP&J Baker, Sanderson, Scalamandre, Schumacher, Ramm, Pierre Frey, Mulberry, Bennison, and the ladies –Anna French, Jean Monro, Rose Cumming, Sister Parrish, Nina Campbell, and Jane Churchill. But the top prizes must go to Colefax & Fowler and Lee Jofa for their sheer breadth and painterly quality - like a framed botanical watercolor or a Dutch master still life - they really are works of art.
WORKING WITH FLORALS TODAY
Decorating with florals is especially relevant today. From our pandemic experience, an age-old desire to find inspiration in nature and bring the outdoors in has re- emerged, along with a need to replace minimalistic, clinical, and color-less beige & grey style with comfort, textural warmth, and a sense of exuberance that patterns like florals provide our homes.
Add to that, a “new traditional” style favored by millennials called “grandmillenial style”. The term refers to the traditional style that millennials’ grandmothers or mothers might have created for the homes they grew up in - with a twist. Grandmillenial is a much more hyper-curated, individualistic, and eclectic mixed style. Millennials favor craftsmanship, sustainability, environmental awareness, uniqueness, and one-of-a-kind over mass production. What’s in? Introducing traditional nuance to more contemporary space. A single piece of inherited or rescued “brown” furniture in a room is a sustainable, probably one-of-a-kind choice with provenance or sentiment attached. A modern coffee table and collected piece of art may be added. Plants of every kind are brought in. Pattern in an accent wallpapered wall or a touch of traditional floral patterns is introduced in a modern way on accent pieces – a skirted table or a footstool, or pillows on a contemporary sofa.
Florals are more versatile than you may think. Traditionally, florals are mixed with graphic stripes, including ticking stripes, checks, woven damask, toile, and linen textures, even leopard and tiger velvets. The easiest way to mix florals with each other is to maintain a common color thread but vary the scale and style. Start with a single-color small scale wood block print. Add a floral stripe or ribbon like Castellet or Sister Parrish. Then layer the ‘piece de resistance’ - a fabulous full-blown floral like one of the iconic designs listed below.
WHAT TO COLLECT
COLEFAX & FOWLER’s Bowood is their most enduring print. The story goes that John Fowler discovered a scrap of fabric at Bowood House built circa 1780 and reinterpreted it. In continuous production since 1938 Bowood is an incredibly simple design unlike any other traditional chintz, as historic as it is iconic, and a staple of grandmillenial design. It consists of a single flower (grey roses in its most popular colorway) in groups of 3 stems arranged in a linear fashion that’s almost modern, and indeed is so versatile it has worked across decades and every design style from modern to traditional.
Another fine chintz, considered by some an “absolute masterpiece …the mother of legendary pattern”, LEE JOFA Hollyhock (and its sister design Althea) is a hand block print on linen that can trace its roots to the 1850s.
Here is a far-from-exhaustive list of some of the most classic and legendary florals that are highly collectible – if you can find them. Act sustainably and seek out remnants. Only choose what you love. You can find examples of some of these on our website.
SCHUMACHER Pyne Hollyhock, Salisbury, Wycombe Park, Le Castellet, Airlie
LEE JOFA Floral Bouquet, Rosebank, Trentham
COLEFAX & FOWLER Roses & Pansies, Hydrangea, Summerby, Fuchsia, Pemberton, Tree Peony
ROSE CUMMING Delphinium, Cabbage Rose, Carlotta, Rose Medallion
BRUNSCHWIG Roses & Lilias
SCALAMANDRE Ascot, Highgrove, Hydrangea Ivy
JEAN MONRO Hollyhock, Apperley, Hydrangea & Rose, Auricula, Wildflower Stripe
COWTAN & TOUT Leopard & Rose, Lindsey