Blooming marvellous - embrace some floral prints
Put your inner shrinking violet aside and embrace full-on florals
My obsession with floral prints began when I went to stay with my grandmother as a very small child. She was a great one for floral patterns. I used to count the cornflowers and hollyhocks on her wallpaper (there wasn't a lot else to do). And I longed to play with her precious Minton china tea set, although it was kept well out of my reach. The cups were fluted with a green rim and decorated with a pattern of pink, blue and yellow flowers. Ever since then, I've been a floral fan.
I did get to play with the tea set in the end, but not until after my grandmother died. Now, it's one of my most treasured possessions. The pattern is called Haddon Hall, designed by John Wadsworth for Minton in 1949. It's a sweet, nostalgic design and it encapsulates everything that's right about floral patterns (and everything that's wrong about them too). Floral patterns are unthreatening. It's part of their charm. But they can also be dull and twee.
"Florals are pedestrian. Everyone can deal with a pretty flower. To make them interesting they have to be subverted in some way," says Laura Farrell, interior designer. "Florals are difficult - they're either too stylised or too obvious - and using them is a new thing for me. I came to it because I started liking intricate patterns on the wall." Then, she discovered the wallpapers by the Spanish company Gaston y Daniela. "Some of them have such a strong Moorish influence that they look as though they've come back from the Alhambra," she says. "The florals are intriguing, with medlars and persimmons, and the colours are dense and saturated." Intricate and exciting florals from Gaston y Daniela include Paramore, which comes in colourways like coral and azure. It's definitely not one for shrinking violets.
Likewise, the gutsy Classic Seasons Wallpaper Summer Tropical Bloom, from British designer Sian Zeng (€219.84 for a 10-metre roll). Like all Zeng's wallpaper, its carefully drawn with hot pink plants that look like they could swallow you whole and deep green foliage against a black and white background. It also comes as magnetic wallpaper, which looks the same but you can stick things to it. This is great fun but twice the price (€444.76 for a 10-metre roll) and comes with magnetic tree frogs that you can position amid the blooms.
When using strong florals, Farrell advises caution in the rest of the room. "You have to take it carefully and not have everything too matchy-matchy. The visual tension depends on contrast, so the other materials need to be plain. The plainer the better!" In a bedroom, for example, you can keep the rest of the room vaguely calm and then do something wild and crazy on the headboard. And maybe the curtains too. Or maybe not.
"I'm really over 50s vintage tea-roses, but I have been using granny-print wallpaper with tiny florals on a Laura Ashley scale," Farrell confesses. "It's to do with embracing it all!" Used on a small scale, patterns like Midsummer wallpaper from the Swedish brand Boråstapeter read like a delicate lattice, but the trick is to keep the colours pale. "As a rule of thumb, the larger the scale of the print, the stronger you can go with the colour. When you're using a little small cottage print, you need to keep the colours light." Another wallpaper from Boråstapeter, Birds, shows blue tits and great tits perched on a floral trellis. It's a detailed print but the colours are subdued enough to make it restful. When it comes to fabric, Farrell finds herself moving towards floral patterns on linen blends, which she finds earthier and more inviting. "I want the intricacies and nuances of 18th-century print," she says. "Like something that you'd find on a dress in a Jane Austen novel." Such patterns are hard to find but Livorno, a gloriously detailed jacquard woven upholstery fabric from the Danish brand Jab ticks all the boxes. Flowery sofas are beginning to emerge in some of the mainstream shops, like DFS, but often in patterns that are striking rather than subtle.
Roll the clock back another few hundred years to the Dutch Golden Age of painting. Still life floral paintings were a 17th-century staple and nobody did them better than the Dutch. You can see them in museums across the world. Then, a few years ago, someone at the British company Surface View came up with the inspired plan of buying the licence for some of these classical paintings and reproducing them as wall art. You can buy them at any size but, according to Alissa Sequeira of Surface View, its Dutch Still Life images are most popular as murals that cover the whole wall. "Blowing up a section of the flowers to full scale across a wall has a tremendous impact which commands attention whenever anyone enters a room. This type of imagery seems to be most popular in living rooms and bedrooms, but a toilet wallpapered with these romantic florals on all four walls would be stunning!"
To calculate the cost, which varies for each image, first choose a painting. Then put in the size of the wall that you want to cover and select the crop that works best for the shape of your wall. For example, a still life painting of hollyhocks in a vase by Jan van Huysum (1682-1749), blown up to cover a wall 300cm wide by 240cm high would cost about €520 including shipping to Ireland. You can buy it as traditional wallpaper, or as a repositionable self-adhesive vinyl. People who are frightened of putting up wallpaper may be glad to hear that Surface View has an installation service that extends to Ireland with costs that depend on the size of the project.
Wallpaper from Gaston y Daniela, Boråstapeter, and fabric from Jab is available in Ireland through Laura Farrell (firstname.lastname@example.org). See also sianzeng.com and surfaceview.co.uk.