Renowned English interior design firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler is shaking things up in its forthcoming exhibition Art for Living by mixing contemporary art with historic decor. Open December 6-21 at the company’s new Pimlico Road showrooms, the show is composed in association with Fred Mann, founder of east London gallery New Art Projects, and visitors can expect to find painting, collage and photography ranging from £1,500 to £15,000, installed just so in a series of impeccable tableaux.
“Most of our clients have modern and contemporary art in their collections, but aren’t confident about placing it alongside traditional furniture,” explains design director Philip Hooper, who is curating the show. “But you can juxtapose pieces to set up a new dynamic.”
The company partners with a number of galleries to source artworks for clients, but Hooper says that what he enjoys about working with Fred Mann and his artists from New Art Projects – which is located in London Fields, Hackney – is that he gets to show his clients the kinds of artworks they might not have the chance to see exhibited much in west London.
Judging by the line-up at Art for Living, this might include a collaged grid of book pages depicting mushrooms – Funghi by Jack Milroy – or an op art-esque oil on board, such as No.03 by Mat Humphrey. Traditionalists, meanwhile, may find themselves drawn to an elegant depiction of a whippet sitting cross-pawed on a striped armchair by James Crowther. “All the artists display craftsmanship, technical skills and the ability to really draw or paint,” comments Hooper, “but across a range of media, and figurative and abstract”.
This befits Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler’s direction for the 21st century, as the design team now embraces all manner of projects, from city apartments and ranches in the Americas to ski chalets in Europe and tropical beach houses in the Caribbean – as well, of course, as Britain’s stately homes, in keeping with the company’s history. The firm was established in the 1930s by innovative society hostess Sibyl Colefax, who took on John Fowler as her lead decorator the following decade. Things then became exceptionally glamorous when American heiress Nancy Lancaster took over the company, bringing with her a stratospheric address book that, combined with Fowler’s talent, meant the company was invited to decorate Britain’s most distinguished houses – from Chequers to the audience room at Buckingham Palace.
After more than half a century based at its much-loved townhouse on Brook Street, Mayfair (home to Nancy Lancaster’s oft-copied Yellow Room), the company has relocated to interiors parade Pimlico Road, to better showcase its talents for today’s clients. Hooper designed the new showrooms with walls that move around “like a theatre set”, so the design team could set up vignettes – from those that feature hand-painted trompe l’oeil to others with more contemporary finishes. “It’s a hybrid between an antiques showroom and a modern gallery,” he says. “We hang pictures in a domestic way, above a chest of drawers for example, or a fireplace, rather than in a white cube” – which sounds highly refreshing.