January 15 2010
Lucia van der Post
It’s not often that I get wildly excited by wallpaper, but Fromental’s papers are not so much functional wall-coverings as works of art. Fromental was founded by Tim Butcher, who used to be the creative director of de Gournay, which specialises in hand-painted chinoiserie, and Lizzie Deshayes, a textile designer. Their ambition is nothing less than to create “the world’s most beautiful hand-produced wallpapers”.
I think they have pretty well succeeded, as I’ve seen nothing like them. All are designed in-house, each is made to order, and, being non-repeating, they are tailored to precise spaces. There are 40 designs on paper and silk, but all come in lots of different colourways.
While all the designs are remarkable – even the flat-painted ones are original and memorably beautiful – it is the hand-embroidered ones that are truly different and utterly eye-catching. The collections of birds and flowers come in colourways that range from the delicately pale and haunting to the vibrant and eye-scorching. There are brilliant pink birds perched on blossom-covered trees against a deep blue background. There are other birds and flowers surrounded by roses; there are owls sitting broodingly against a background of very graphic grey and black bamboo. There are apple trees on a brilliant grass-green background, and yet more birds hovering among stylised branches and leaves. (First picture: paper from the Prunus range. Second picture: Variegated Leaves from Fromental’s 20th Century collection.)
All are hand-embroidered in silk onto a fine silk background, and the stitchery is so fine that one has to peer up close to appreciate its quality. The shades of colour are subtle and finely nuanced. Mixed in among the embroidery is some fine hand-painting, of trees, blossom, bamboo, butterflies, branches.
The embroideries are all done in the Chinese city of Suzhou, the Imperial City of embroidery, just outside Shanghai. The hand-painted papers come in a range of patterns, from geometric or stylised flowers through to abstract graphics in sophisticated colourways. Some are what the designers call a revisitation of “the grandeur of 18th-century chinoiserie”, while others are much more graphic and sometimes very delicate. Anyone who has admired the chinoiserie at The Dorchester’s China Tang restaurant will know at once what a powerful impact the papers create.
All the papers have to be ordered. First, the dimensions of the room, with windows and doors marked, are needed, and then the designers will do a hand-drawn design for the customer to approve before sending off the order, which will then take between eight and 10 weeks to arrive.
These, needless to say, are not papers for every room in the house; they are special papers which would be used perhaps in a dramatic small dining-room or bathroom, or to highlight a hall. They’re too expensive and too dramatic for everyday. But they are undoubtedly works of art. Prices start at £70 a square metre for the plainer papers, and go on up to £1,000 a square metre for the elaborately embroidered ones.