Design That Tells a Story

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2020 has been a somewhat unusual year and, for most of us, one filled with surprises and periods of adjustment. In spite of the difficulties experienced by our industry, interior brands are proving time and again the resilience of creativity and design’s power to provide hope and inspiration. Over the passing months we have taken note of those using design as a way of communication, whether that be through detailed textile designs that indicate heritage and grandeur or hand painted wallcoverings that regale an uplifting message. According to LookBoxLiving: “Storytelling in interior design helps to develop unique ideas, evoke meaningful experiences and create a new perspective of space.” 

Discover Decorex’s fascination with design that tells a story and the importance of this evolving movement.  

Charlotte Gaisford Tiger Blue
Charlotte Gaisford: Tiger Blue

An Age-Old Practice  

The human race has always been inclined to tell stories, even from the earliest records of our existence. We have long harnessed imagery to communicate our greatest tales, history, achievements and memories. One of the oldest material forms of human expression in the world are ancient cave drawings, examples have been unearthed in Africa and other locations such as Libya dating back 30,000 years. In such cases, etchings give a glimpse into the social practices of those that were living at the time, with hunting and wedding scenes being common. 

This decorative practice has been echoed across several other cultures throughout history. Ancient Assyria, which covered the northern region of present-day Iraq and is considered one of the great civilisations of the ancient world, is one such example. Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) was the first Assyrian king to extensively decorate his palace with carved stone panels that detailed his triumphs in battle and beyond. 

Through the ages, mankind has shown an affinity with incorporating stirring visuals into their living spaces: from Grecian vases and Tudor tapestries to Georgian ceiling mouldings and exotic touches from the Design period.  

Anna Glover Design that tells a story
Anna Glover: Brio Moodboard

A Modern-Day Narrative 

How is modern-day design reflective of this ancient tendency to create a narrative in the places we live? While most homes nowadays are built from bricks and mortar, there seems to be an overriding feeling amongst designers that our personal spaces should reflect a sense of self – our experiences, challenges, aspirations and favourite things. This sentiment is shared by American designer, Kelly Wearstler; in an interview with Forbes she expressed that “the best projects are inevitably the ones in which the client has a strong voice and distinctive point of view.”  

My job is to be a good listener and run the clients’ vision through my filter. I start by asking them what story they want to tell, how they want to feel. It’s about evoking a mood, telling a story. Also, scale is imperative. There has to be a hierarchy within a space. Too many starlets in one room create needless drama. To achieve balance, there must be a thoughtful mixology of texture, history, pattern and colour. Quieter details are necessary to ground bigger voices and allow statement pieces to shine,” she says.  

The objects that we surround ourselves with seem to say a lot about who we are, how we think and what we want out of life. It therefore corresponds that the design of our home spaces would be deeply personal to us, having the ability reflect these sentiments.  

The Writings on the Wall 

While cave etchings may not be the norm nowadays, hints of this style of imagery can be seen in modern prints. Anna Glover, award winning luxury wallpaper and surface designer, has revealed that she draws upon historical forms to inspire and create her unique works.  

For technique I look at a lot of ancient art forms from around the world. From cave paintings, medieval manuscripts, Indian miniature paintings and Japanese master painting, there is always so much to learn from them and I never get tired of staring at my favourite pieces,” Glover explains. 

This was precisely the case for Glover’s design Brio – meaning vigour, brilliance and energy – which is a collaborative design she created for Decorex 2020. Glover’s moodboard for Brio was filled with sources of inspiration, both old and new, that she had used to bring her galloping horses into fruition. Upon closer inspection it becomes clear that their shapes share similarities with animals represented in cave drawings, with simple outlines and valiant gestures that suggest movement.  

 It is Glover’s personal interest in different cultures that helps her to translate a vibrant tapestry of colour and shape into her designs. “For colour I really love a big clash of influences from art film, fashion, science and nature,” she says. 

Wallcoverings, wallpapers, and tapestries are a fantastic way to create drama within a space – such interior features are gradually being used more frequently as a communicative device. With detailed patterns, delicate motifs and lifelike illustrations, these almost come to life on the wall and inject a sense of personality into a room. 

Charlotte Gaisford Design that tells a story
Charlotte Gaisford: Good Girls

British designer, Charlotte Gaisford, epitomises this notion with her vibrant collections of wallpaper, fabrics and furnishings. Many of Gaisford’s designs hold a personal importance to her, being inspired by a precious memory or source of happiness. The Good Girls collection, which features dainty, floral patterns, has been named after all of her dogs – past and present. The collection is filled with a bright palate of forget-me-not blues with soft greys and pinks, reflecting the joyous temperament of her beloved dogs. “They all mean and have meant so much to me it was about time I named a collection after them. All my dogs have been mini wired haired dachshunds and they are all real little characters,” Gaisford explains. 

Other wallpaper collections in Gasiford’s repertoire include African Father LightThe Countess and Tiger Blue, which involves a layered oriental themed print with elegant blue tigers, colourful palms and abstract shapes.  “I am always interested in shapes as opposed to pictures, I will create motifs and then bring them together into one design,” she says. Gaisford will be sharing her latest work at Decorex Virtual this November – find out more about the show on our website

Another example of a brand using methods of storytelling to bring their products alive is Pinton, who are also one of the suppliers to be taking part in Decorex Virtual 2020. The brand has become synonymous with Aubusson tapestries. Drawing upon age-old techniques and methodologies, whilst incorporating modern motifs into their work, they have managed to weave a sense of history into their tapestries. Pinton’s craftmanship has been passed down through generations, always retaining the same attention to detail and pride for their craft. 

Many of their works involve bold colours and vibrant patterns. Being commissioned for many of their pieces, including rugs and wall-hangings, they use their skills and knowledge to identify exactly what their clients want to take away from their work.  

 “We have been crafting exceptional carpets and magnificent wall-hanging tapestries for almost 150 years. Using techniques handed down through the generations, our family company is proud to perpetuate the glory and renown of French expertise in a field which has, through countless masterpieces, helped set the pace for art throughout history. As a defender of this priceless heritage, it is our duty to remain at the forefront of each new artistic movement and keep pace with the cutting edge of technology,” explains a Pinton representative.  

The Monkey Puzzle Tree Textile Design
The Monkey Puzzle Tree: Metamorphosis | How the Leopard Got His Spots

The Fabric of Life 

Ever since the first textile was created, there have been stories woven into fabric. Whether it be literally or figuratively, textile design does not exist without a narrative. In his book, Oaxaca Stories In Cloth, Eric Minding states that “cloth is a language through which a people can tell stories about themselves, their community, and their place in the universe.” 

While some brands are using walls as their key communicator, others are turning to fabric and textile design to carry the personality of their spaces. The Monkey Puzzle Tree is a key example of this mentality; their wild prints and daringly designed fabrics have plenty to say. The Monkey Puzzle Tree collaborate with artists to create beautiful designs that aren’t based on trends, but instead are built around a story. The brand is known for its maximalist decorating style and confident prints.  

At The Monkey Puzzle Tree we collaborate with fine artists who have spent many years creating their own style and language rather than designing to briefs and trends,” Charlotte Ruffo, Founder of The Monkey Puzzle Tree, explains.  

Each of our designs has a real story because it comes directly from the artwork and it is my role to turn that original piece of art into a unique textile or wallpaper. The story behind each of our designs allows the onlooker to become more involved and emotionally attached to the design, creating a real connection to the piece. We hope that this leads to a more sustainable and less disposable culture as the owner is encouraged to look after and keep their interior for as long as possible rather than changing everything as another trend arrives,” she concludes.  

The Monkey Puzzle Tree Metamorphosis
The Monkey Puzzle Tree: Metamorphosis

One of the brand’s latest collections is called Metamorphosis; it features metallic gold comets, mysterious faces and strange creatures amidst green tendrils. The design takes inspiration from artists Klimt and Egon Schiele, with flowing lines that provide an ethereal feeling. Metamorphosis is a collaborative textile design from artist, Kirsty Greenwood, whose fascination for the phenomenon of pareidolia – the tendency to see faces and animals in patterns and objects – allowed the work to take shape. Other collections from The Monkey Puzzle Tree include How the Leopard Got His SpotsBody Lace Voile and Rita Does Jazz in Velvet.  

Throughout the ages design, in one shape or another, has provided artistic relief and an outlet for expression. Now, creative designers and brands are meeting the challenge of crafting bespoke pieces that have the ability to reflect the personality of their occupiers. We can’t wait to see how this movement of storytelling design takes shape in the future and how it might continue to enrich our lives and our homes.  

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