· By Studio
Colour Notes 11
It's that time of year when everyone is feeling a bit more daring. We're excited for the hot summer months ahead, and with the bank holidays upon us we feel it's an opportunity to shake up our interiors and take the plunge into something new. Voysey's 1918 design, Silk Stripe, could be just that: a playful, vibrant wallpaper that speaks to the Arts & Crafts period whilst still maintaining a wholly contemporary feel. We love how the design has retained the original watercolour brushstrokes and even the pencil markings from Voysey, giving the impression it's been painted directly onto the wall. So, it made sense for us to turn our attention to a selection of paints that complement and contrast well with this wallpaper.
But first: a nod to the work of the modernist painter, Vanessa Bell (1879-1961). A radical innovator in the use of abstraction, colour and form, Bell and her good friend Duncan Grant were integral to the decoration of Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex, where the rest of the Bloomsbury set (including her sister Virginia Woolf) lived and worked on and off for years. Her 1915 oil painting, Still Life With Wildflowers, is a good example of her lively post-impressionist style and experiments with colour. According to Bloomsbury scholar Simon Watney, colour was a definitive feature of English post-impressionism. During this period Bell experienced a 'great deal of excitement about colour ... I suppose it was the result of trying first to change everything into colour. It certainly made me inclined also to destroy the solidity of objects.' She was keen to blur the boundary not only between representation and abstraction but also between fine and decorative arts... much like Voysey and the Arts & Crafts movement. As in Bell's painting, Voysey's pattern - designed just three years later - retains the essence of the maker's process. Neither are so refined that they lose character; they are not ignorant to the qualities of the materials used.
And what struck us most is that the colours in Bell's painting work beautifully alongside Voysey's design.
It's a well known fact that when working with a more colourful pattern like Silk Stripe, it makes sense to pair it with something more muted. The great thing about paint is that you don't have to settle for a boring plain white shade. There's a whole world of whites to explore: ones that surprise you, that can have the slightest echo of the rest of your colour palette, and can actually lift a room as opposed to creating a dull, forgettable background.
Historically, white has been used as far back as the 20,000-year-old Palaeolithic cave paintings, which can be found today in the Dordogne region, southwestern France. White paint was originally derived from sedimentary minerals found in abundance in rocks, such as chalk, lime and gypsum. Later, in Ancient Greece, white pigment was created using basic lead carbonate. This continued from antiquity until the nineteenth century, when it was discovered that this pigment (used to paint houses, cars and bridges, and used in fabrics, oilcloths, even wallpapers!) was in fact poisonous. Fortunately, today the toxic stuff has been replaced with far more palatable - and safe - options.
Voysey's design was originally intended for a striped woven silk, which we found in the V&A archives. Of course, silk in its purest form is possibly the most beautiful white available; when it catches the light, natural strands in the material are highlighted. Silk comes from the domesticated silkworm, 'Bombyx Mori' in a process called sericulture. Silk fibres are produced as they create their cocoons, and this is eventually spun into the textile. The result is a yellowish-white fabric which is opulent and rich, thanks to its unique lustre.
'Never use pure white; it doesn’t exist in nature,' said the American plein-air painter Aldro Hibbard. In that vein, we've chosen here a couple of not-quite-whites, which sit nicely alongside Silk Stripe: Milk by Atelier Ellis, and Mindful by Coat. Two aptly named shades which should encourage peace and quiet in your space... and leave the wallpaper to be the focal point.
THE BLUES & GREENS
Voysey's wallpaper features several stripes of colour, but the arguably the main impression is of the green and blue tones. Perhaps this is why it works well as a wallpaper: it is common to find rich natural greens and deep watery blues in interiors, because they remind us of the world outside our homes - garden lawns, trees, riverbeds, the seaside. It's interesting that so many of us want to introduce this natural feel into our inside spaces. We suspect it's to give your home a hint of escapism, especially if you live in a busy city.
To match Silk Stripe, we went with two organic-feeling (but nonetheless eye-catching) paints: Dulux's Fresh Sage, and Blue Robin by Colour Makes People Happy. We highly recommend checking these guys out: their ethos and the titles of their paints are so spot-on, we are a little bit in love!
THE PINKS & ORANGES
Now, to the brighter colours of Silk Stripe. Really, you could pick any one of them and run with it, with bright yellow paintwork or lilac furnishings. We've opted for colours that crop up in Bell's painting - a dusky pink and a burnt orange. Whilst these two may seem to be quite different tones, they actually hark from the same composition of red paint mixed with either yellow or white.
Red paint - much like white - was a fundamental colour used by hunter-gatherers. Paleolithic people supposedly buried their dead with red powder made from clay, for protection from evil spirits. Red has always been symbolic of danger, high alert and passion, thanks to the fact it has one of the longest wavelengths, making it easy for humans to identify. Pinks and oranges - red's more muted cousins - are often more appealing to work with because they don't make quite such a harsh impression as red. There are some brilliant pinks and oranges on the market when it comes to paint. We reckon this speaks to a desire for energetic colour that is still straightforward to style.