Floral Fabric: Nothing Chintzy About It



ROOM IN BLOOM | Julia Reed’s New Orlean salon get chintzed, with Claremont’s Georges Le Manach Mortefontaine Gris fabric on a pair of armchairs. PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL COSTELLO

EDITORS ALWAYS have their eyes peeled for a gestating trend. Nipping at the heels of the industrial-steam-punk look is a cheeky dose of upscale 1980s flounce. Call it Minimal Opulence. Think decorator-y details like couture curtains or fringed sofas grabbing attention in otherwise spare interiors.

At the movement’s core lies the romantic re-awakening of a sleeping giant: chintz. Specifically, glazed cotton fabric printed with a bold pattern of flowers. I received written proof via email from White House decorator Michael Smith, who declared “Chintz lives!” Mr. Smith, the new creative director at old-school fabric company Brunschwig & Fils, has cut his sleekly modern home in Los Angeles with a few floral throw pillows. Stella McCartney has dotted her exuberant resort 2013 line with candy-colored flowers. And Veranda magazine is so in love with the notion of a chintz resurgence, the editors collaborated with venerable fabric maker Cowtan & Tout to reissue a gorgeous 19th-century pattern called “Longbourn.”

Sitting with my friend Julia Reed on her pair of blue-and-green Claremont chintz armchairs, we happily chat about flowery fabric. “The go-to book on chintz is ‘Colefax and Fowler: The Best in English Interior Decoration,’ ” says Julia, pausing on a photograph of American aristo Nancy Lancaster’s famous yellow room. “See how she uses just the tiniest bit of chintz? That’s the secret now: small doses.”

The socially connected Ms. Lancaster, who bought the house of Colefax and Fowler in the 1950s and became British decorator John Fowler’s business partner, was untrained as a designer but had a surfeit of style intuition. She rendered intimidating architecture inviting by using playful fabric and squishy sofas alongside hero pieces.

Team Lancaster and Fowler loved incorporating all kinds of blooming fabric—whether tea-stained or what they called “beaten about"—as a way of imbuing rooms with a British-y type of run-down grandeur that makes a house look done, but not done yesterday. The firm had so many chintzes in their line, they nicknamed one of their more overwhelming patterns "Vomitesse de la Reine” and another “Caca du Dauphin.” Nonetheless, they never missed a chance for flowers, and their nuanced mix of high/low and lived-in luxe defined English decorating for almost a century.

Back in Julia’s library, we blow through a tall stack of books searching for other examples of flowery decorating. We pause at a deeply patterned bedroom designed by chintz’s most famous advocate: '80s decorating titan Mario Buatta. While the room has a certain rhythmic beauty, we both sort of gag, agreeing it’s too much for right now. The bed-and-breakfast look of floor-to-ceiling flowers, complete with ruffles everywhere, is best left buried.

Today’s shot of pretty should be parsed out. I was recently helping my friends Chris and Phyllis Dealy figure out the master bedroom in their Catskills country house. It’s a spare room with white-painted floors and a simple French-style wooden bed. Chris, who runs his own advertising agency in New York, suggested a touch of something floral at the windows or on a chair. Phyllis and I looked at him with raised eyebrows—we never questioned his creativity, but really? Was he OK with flowers in his bedroom? Securely, he responded, “I’m man enough, bring it.”

Chintz is being brought. Schumacher’s Pyne Hollyhock in charcoal, to be exact.

—Ms. Costello is a writer and design consultant based in New Orleans.

Floral Chintz


F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas (3)

Clockwise from left: Hollyhock Chintz, Charcoal 174450, to the trade, Schumacher, 800-523-1200; Floral Bouquet–2003101, $198 per yard, Lee Jofa, 800-453-3563; Longbourn (available Sept. 1), to the trade, Cowtan & Tout, 212-647-6900