Thornback & Peel sounds rather like an old-fashioned solicitors’ firm, but perhaps it would be more apt to compare it to a comedy duo’s name, since this homeware company’s hand-printed wares are shot through with humour. More specifically, a surreal wit pervades its idiosyncratically quaint – yet modern-looking and practical – hankies, deckchairs, tea towels, napkins and aprons.
“We met in 2004 and recognised a mutual taste for the surreal,” recalls Delia Peel, who, with Juliet Thornback, set up the business in 2006. “We enjoy playful combinations of objects: bees and ladybirds.” If these motifs sound conventionally attractive, Peel says, “They started with stranger, more grotesque imagery – sections of the brain, sets of teeth – but they didn’t sell well.”
Even so, she and Thornback haven’t jettisoned such quirky touches: “One of our first designs, a clutch bag, featured 19th-century anatomical drawings of strange eggs; this has evolved into a more customer-friendly print with eggs and birds.” One of their more bizarre designs, they say – which graces the canvas cotton seat of a deckchair (third picture, £125) – juxtaposes pigeons with Victorian illustrations of jellies. (Their inspirations include Mrs Beeton’s household management books.)
Arguably, it takes some nerve to consider a pigeon decorative – especially when used as a single motif on a wallpaper (£65 per 10m roll) or silk cushion (£55). But here it’s in an exquisite dove grey – indeed, one of Thornback & Peel’s strengths is its fresh, usually light-colour palette. Take its cutely packaged boxes of three cotton hankies printed with golden yellow pears or fish in a raspberry shade (second picture, £15.50).
Ultimately, this brand’s selling point is its fun approach to decoration, embodied by one of its canvas bags (first picture), which pictures a thoroughly mischievous-looking Peter Rabbit-like bunny frolicking among cabbages it has every intention of devouring (£50).