12 Mar Georgian Fabrics – Drama and Opulence
Here at Etons of Bath, we live and breathe interior design for Georgian and Regency homes and hotels. Often, Georgian fabrics and the combination of bold and more subtle colour schemes lie at the heart of what we do. So, here we take a look at the history of Georgian fabrics and how they were designed to be used…
Bold Extravagance and Minute Attention to Detail
From deep blue or dark red cut velvet upholstery and matching wall-hangings to rooms clad in golden-yellow silk damask: scenic chinoiserie papers peopled with birds or fantastical figures in a landscape to a complete scheme in crimson Gobelin’s tapestry: the Georgians were not afraid to use bold colour!
Grand Georgian interiors at the time often featured vibrantly coloured textiles, elaborate hand-painted papers and dramatic polychrome paint schemes. In the case of textiles, the deeper the colour, the more expensive the fabric, as rich colours required the most expensive dye-stuffs, and the décor of a man’s house was designed to reflect his wealth, taste and position in society.
Although women might involve themselves in the decoration of the house, it was a source of great interest and pleasure to many aristocratic male owners as is evidenced by the letters of the Earl of Chesterfield. Whilst engaged in the fitting out of Chesterfield House (now known as Ranger’s House) a Georgian mansion in the Palladian style overlooking Greenwich Park, he wrote to his son:
‘The rest of the day is employed in riding, and fitting up my house; which, I assure you, takes a good deal of time, now we are come to the minute parts of fitting and furnishing.’
As an example of the display of wealth via bold colours, at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, the original wall-hangings survive to this day in the Red Saloon. They are of deep red caffoy, a fabric similar to cut silk velvet, but woven from a mixture of silk, linen and wool. This combination improved the fabric’s durability, hence perhaps, its survival. The minute attention to detail in this room is reflected in the upholstery of the chairs: the fronts are covered in caffoy to match the walls, but the backs, which would rarely have been seen, placed as they were against the walls, had their own specially woven woollen cloth, stamped to imitate the design of the caffoy.
The Play of Light and Shade
Silk damasks and luxury fabrics with textured pile designs on satin grounds, such as cut or ciselé velvets, created drama in a room. As light fell on them from different angles their patterns changed from dark to light. Velvets, which were imported from Italy, were commonly referred to by the generic term Genoa, a city once famous for their production. Many were in fact woven in Venice and today the firm of Bevilaqua is the last surviving company in the city to produce hand-woven ciselé velvets.
These sumptuous Georgian fabrics were used liberally in Britain’s great townhouses and country houses, particularly in state apartments where today many original room schemes have been reinstated, with fabrics re-woven to clad the walls and upholster the furniture. A magnificent example is the breathtaking Blue Velvet Room at Chiswick House, recently restored to its former glory.
In terms of another Georgian fabric design, Damask is a type of weave which dates back as least as far as the Ottoman Empire and takes its name from Damascus, an important trading city on the silk route. Damask has not only survived the test of time, but in much the same way as the term Genoa was used in the 18thcentury, it has become a generic name for the type of stylised repeating pomegranate and leaf motifs which form part of the vocabulary of furnishing textiles and wallpapers today. In true damask fabrics the structure of the weave creates a raised pattern or ‘figure’, which stands out matt against a shiny satin-weave background, exploiting the play of light upon its surface. For a beautiful example of this Georgian fabric design in its original state, do visit the state bedroom at Harewood House
For more information on how to integrate Georgian fabric, colour schemes and design into your Georgian property, please contact one of the team of experts at Etons of Bath.