Mary Schoeser is an internationally respected textile and wallpaper historian. She has published, curated widely and collaborated with many museums over her long career. Her clients include The Fashion Textile Museum, London; the Victoria & Albert Museum ( where she is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow ) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As an historic textiles advisor she has worked with English Heritage, the National Trust and private house owners, and as a consultant archivist, with organisations such as Laura Ashley, Sanderson and the John Lewis Partnership.
Mary worked on the restoration of 78 Derngate in 2002-2003 and was the lead consultant in the recreation of Mackintosh-designed textiles and interior schemes for the house. She graciously agreed to support the Centenary programme by returning to talk in detail about her research methodology for the recreation of the Guest Bedroom; in particular how the groundbreaking decision to use fabric on the walls and ceiling was reached.
The talk took place on Thursday 16th February 2017 at 7pm to an audience of around 30. A video recording was made but is not of good quality so an audio transcription has been made to accompany Mary Schoeser’s original presentation slides. The audio from this recording has been transcribed by Tricia Parker and this is presented below alongside the slides. This resource can be used to gain a good understanding of a fascinating account of how one of the most avant-garde interiors of the twentieth century was recreated.
“The talk begins with the fantastic collection of black and white photographs of the original interiors at 78 Derngate and the assumption that the famous striped bedroom had paper on the walls. It takes us through the research to confirm the width of the stripes, the hunt for authentic examples in archives, and how and why it became clear that the walls were covered with cloth. It reveals how Bassett-Lowke’s close involvement with the decoration of the house and the work undertaken by his own firm became a key to solving the mystery as to why this decision was made.”
I’m going to talk to you principally about the stripy bedroom and the challenge of doing that but also some other aspects of the house and in a very, very small way how that relates to the kind of work that I’ve done generally in this sort of field. So this, as many of you may know, is the room in The Hunterian [ Slide 1 ], that original setting with the furniture and the stripy background is wallpaper and this was because the majority of the written descriptions of the room describe it as being paint or ‘hung’ with stripy pattern and it was Pamela Robertson, Professor of Mackintosh Studies who had led the research on this and so that was the assumption when I was brought in to work on this house. And my job I should say was to identify what was there but as well to bring my experience in understanding how you make it again or how you find it again, something that I’ve done on several occasions for the National Trust and for English Heritage. And so that’s how I ended up involved. So initially we thought this was going to be wallpaper and my task was going to be to find cloth to match it.
One of the many original photographs from this room (and someone was saying earlier we are so lucky that Bassett Lowke was a superb photographer – so very lucky – and that these photographs had survived in such good condition.) These photographs, and the descriptions, presented the first question mark about what was really on the walls because it became clear from reading the descriptions and looking at the photographs that the public rooms were more posh than the private rooms. They were showier and had more expensive things in them. And this was something that I knew from other experiences in other houses: Eltham Palace for example is just the same, the Courtaulds’ family home. Much more spent on the the public, the reception areas, the guest facilities and so on than the private rooms that only the family would see. And so we began to think first of all about this room as being one of the public rooms because it is a guest room rather than the private family bedroom (which you’ll see in a minute) which is a much more modest, cosy affair. And you’ll know it anyway, from knowing the house won’t you? Do all of you know the house?. So the more expensive furnishings include the fact that the bathroom had a very expensive faux mosaic wallpaper in it which you can still see. And of course the Hall / Lounge that is hessian backed and that’s also faux. Now Mackintosh (and Bassett Lowke) but Mackintosh certainly was very, very familiar with the Viennese architectural style, the school of thought, The Secessionists and they were very much in favour of putting cloth on the walls. It’s something that has survived and you can see it if you go to Paris and you stay in a little hotel in the Marais – they still put cloth on the walls. It’s much better for heat and soundproofing than any other kind of finish and of course it disguises the signs of life, age and scarring that a wall would carry – any wall of any age – whereas paper simply accentuates all of those qualities. So for all those reasons we began to think, intellectually and historically it perhaps made more sense that it was going to be fabric but that’s never enough really – certainly not for me – and you have to find more.
I was also very aware from my studies of the history of textiles for interiors that this stripy pattern was very, very fashionable in the years just running up to the First World War and this is what is always called the Regency Stripe – even though there were hardly any in the Regency period! – That’s another story. And it has always until this project really rather been assumed that these would be wallpapers because certainly in the experience of 1905 – 1910/11/12 there were a lot of striped wallpapers produced, but with the First World War there was a severe paper shortage in the UK and so as someone who’s worked on wallpaper history I knew that paper itself would have been in short supply and so that’s another reason to step back and think again about what this might be.
This is the Gazette de Bon Temps, the most wonderful French journal, hand stencilled – fits in nicely with what goes on in this house – the colouring is all hand stencilled, pochoir printing as they call it in France, about 1910.
So with all those things in mind, I then started the process of converting the black and white photographs into colour and this is something that I’m often involved with. As I say, we were very lucky to have the black and white photographs and really, until you hit the 1950s, if you have documentary evidence of photograph quality it tends to be in black and white and so one of the challenges for someone like me is always looking for evidence as to how to colour these because it’s colour that makes things fashionable both in terms of dress and in terms of interiors.
You can have the same piece of furniture or the same essential garment, repeated over and over again but it’s the colour that actually makes it of the moment, particularly once you pass about 1805 ( – now I think to myself I can think of earlier examples ) but once you get to 1805 you get the fashion for, as a result of Napoleon, the Pompeian, Egyptian colour and so you have that vivid, slightly orangey mustard, red, black and so on and then you start getting mineral dyes and then you get synthetic dyes and so the nature of textiles and wallpaper printing is one that is driven forward by new innovations in colour, constantly, so they begin to be the thing really setting the tone of things. And so this is the beginning of many, many, many hours (what you see here) of work in what is now the Cloth Workers’ in London, the V & A Archive of Art and Design, Blythe House. I already knew from previous research that they held the sample books for Heals – Oh yes, well worth making a visit. Perhaps we could do an outing? They hold post Second World War Heals records and those are when Heals began to produce for themselves. What was really interesting for me is that the earlier books, the first half of the 20th century, Heals was buying fabrics in and they have these amazing volumes – you can see little bits of them, where they write down the supplier, the fabric name, their own in-house company number, the number of yards sold as they go on and you get information on prices – just little snippets. These are the workings out of the people who are in the warehouse keeping track of what’s coming in and then they mark it down as they sell it. And then sometimes it says “continued on page 20” and you can find out the best sellers, find out all sorts of information, prices, but most importantly, in there in perfect condition you can see the colours, the original colours of this period. And I was also very familiar with the records surviving , over 750 volumes that I surveyed, to do with the Macclesfield Silk Industry. But these were more important because these are furnishing fabrics. So this just shows you sort of how things started, looking for colours, bringing in the photographs, examining everything and setting off. And important to note this name William Foxton, that also an important reason to look at Heals because Foxton did, we know, produce some printed designs by Mackintosh so we knew we were dealing, being able to look at a company and the sort of cloth they used and the sensibility of colours.
I also knew about these stripes and so I was keeping my eye out for something that might be cloth work. These are called tabaret stripes and they are characterised by smooth versus textured areas in the stripes and these of course were too fancy for the Mackintosh house. These were at the Royal College of Art, a volume of Warner weaves but at the Royal College of Art.
And then of course I was the Archivist at Warner and Sons in Braintree throughout the 1980s, 1982 to the end of 1990 so that’s an archive that I know well and then the volumes are in various places but there’s a good tranche of them in Braintree. But then I found this and this is a Warner record and I hope you’ll all think “Oh well that was easy!” but still it’s not quite as simple as one might think.
So then I counted stripes for a year and a half, not constantly but always going back to it because of course, the point is I found the stripy cloth but you can just see all the calculations and there are endless sheets like this. And I have to say I have brought in a volume and we can take it apart and pass it round afterwards so you can see – it’s one sixth of the volumes that contain the research here but the key thing was, OK, I found the cloth – where we can measure the stripes – an authentic example dating from about 1915 but is this the right cloth for us, just because it has stripes? And what are the proportions because that’s the key to Mackintosh’s graphic sensibility, his sense of proportion? And so you can see me measuring and dividing and calculating and so on. The great thing was, of course, that the original furniture survived so we could calculate from the furniture against the stripes and begin to work out what it really was – what the width of it really was. So I can tell you now that after about a year and three quarters it was confirmed.
Particularly with this image because now we don’t get the skew of the proportions from the camera by just looking at these. And the double stripe (one black and one white together) is an inch and a half wide and the ivory stripe is 25/32nds of an inch wide and the black stripe is 23/32nds of an inch wide – just a little bit narrower. And this is important for 2 reasons: it means that the width of the cloth divides by 1½ inches – this is imperative, when you are weaving you have to have a design that divides equally along the warp – you can’t end up with a quarter of a repeat, a quarter of a stripe – it’s got to fit and indeed it does. The other thing which is important is that the furniture matches it perfectly. So if we go back ( returns to Slide 7 ) you can see this is 36 inches and this is 34 double stripes – so an inch and a half times twenty. So then we can then really begin to calibrate everything and one of the sheets that I’ve pulled from one of the other 5 volumes is this if anyone really wants to study it. This is the summary by Sarah Jackson who was the architect from John McAslan’s practice who was responsible for the interior reconstruction here and so this is her summarising to her architectural team why this choice was made and you can see (showing the sheet) how much argument there was. And it was right that there was argument – it was a really stimulating debate because after the Hunterian had done, Pamela (Robertson) had done, a lot of research and all the resources bar one said it was wallpaper but (waves the sheet) it wasn’t!
So this photograph (the one you just saw) this is the drawing, counting the ceiling stripes etc etc. The digital technology that we had by the time we really got going on this project right at the beginning of this century and especially with McAslan ( a fantastic drawing office there ) we were able to take the photographs and digitise them and blow them up at very high quality, very high resolution and then trace, so it wasn’t working on the original photographs but on a blow up of them which still held its resolution and then they were traced so that these drawings could begin to be made. So you can see ( these are third versions – there is a fourth more finished version which I don’t have which went to John McAslan ) but you can see how one begins really to check all those measurements and make sure it’s all alright and work out precisely how it all works. And there you can see 3 double stripes, 4 double stripes, 4 double stripes etc so then that also defines the size of the coloured squares as well. So we begin to understand the proportions that Mackintosh gives. And you can see my little questions “This might be blue?” You notice it’s green you see and you start to look at the photographs.
Looking really carefully again, looking at how little gathering there is in the curtains to make sure that that aspect is duplicated as well. So it was clear that the intention was that the stripes would not begin to mass together and just create a smudge, a section of too much ivory or too much black. And so all these things made us feel more confident that this decision was going the right way but we still continued to debate about it as we went along. But it isn’t just that the cloth on the walls was higher status and it isn’t just that it’s more practical in the width of the fitting of the cloth because wallpaper is 21 “ wide – that hasn’t changed for ever. And it’s more difficult to make that 1 ½” double stripe work on a 21” wide product so there’s a practical thing.
But also – these are the men who made it happen: Terry Robinson (on the left) is a specialist who has, man and boy, done wall hangings – amazing things and we can talk about them being in the Shah or whoever’s palace some place in the desert, hanging – something which is made of silk with gold thread, wonderful! And James Hill from Chapmans which was the overarching upholstery company, specialist historical upholstery company that I’ve always liked to work with. Now what was really interesting was two things here – in relation to that description. People saying it was ‘papered’ or it ‘was hung’ ( with this black and white stripy stuff ) is that in order to get the cloth on the walls it had to be backed with paper. And according to Terry who as I say, man and boy, was apprenticed to this trade, who’s the only one left in the country still doing this kind of work. He was trained by a man who was 63 when he started training with him who said that this is how it had been done when he had been trained as a lad starting at 13 in the training. So we know that this was the tradition that if you wanted to put cloth on the walls, you backed it with paper to give it a kind of barrier to the adhesive that you’re sticking on the walls. The other thing is, and very interesting is, this mitering is very complex, very difficult and they both said so much easier to mitre cloth than to mitre paper. And they both had had experience in working with both so it’s the more practical approach to the whole thing.
So here you see another shot of this room and I’ve put this one here because I want you to take note of the little rivets here – the drawing pins. Because now we’ve decided we’ve got cloth (and I should say also, the other practical reason is it was impossible really to measure the mountain, to get the scope, the proportion of this because of the shape. But I think anyone who decorates knows it’s almost impossible to get a cloth that exactly matches a wallpaper, even if the intention is that they are matched. Again because of all those different things, the different widths and pigment on paper versus dyeing etc etc. So this I think really shows how easy it was for me when we saw these in high resolution to see that the sheen on the cloth was actually apparent on the walls as well. It’s hard for you to see that in the picture on the screen. But then our next challenge was these blue strips here, which are described in here ( holds up magazine: ‘Ideal Home’ ) this is a reprint, I’m sure you’ve seen it – as alternating blue braid – harness braid. So I set off – this was a great learning experience for me – I set off to various other – there’s a handful of places which specialise in ribbons and braids. And you’ll see in some of these packets here about one tenth of the ribbons and braids.
And then of course one begins to think about Bassett Lowke himself because it’s always said that Mackintosh didn’t come to the house. Bassett Lowke was the site architect, so to speak, for getting this project done. And what was his experience? His experience was in engineering, carriage fitting and it’s the war and a lot of young men have gone so who is left? They were older men who had those old skills. The skills they had were in carriage making in Northampton – you know, ships and trains – which traditionally those are lined with cloth. Even today we take it for granted that good old English trains have cloth in them and so there would have been people who were still here, retired effectively, but who have those skills of managing putting cloth on walls. And then of course there was the shoe trade, wasn’t there, the leather for the show trade. And I will pass onto you my one, well I’m hesitating, best piece of advice, but I think it is and it’s from my entire life. Find the oldest person who knows anything about it and grill them! Because they are the receptacle of generations information, of knowledge of traditional ways of working. And so down in VPPO I asked the woman who owns the company if there was anybody who had worked with the company, now retired, who might be prepared to come and talk to me about this dilemma I had, with this braid and she put me in touch with a lovely man named Jim ( I can’t remember…something like ‘Brentwood’ and I feel guilty because I can’t remember, but he was very modest and didn’t want his name put in anything so – he was very private, well he was the key to all this I’m showing you. Bassett Lowke rivets – you know these things are described as being drawing pins in the walls and certainly they are very similar in aesthetic to his rivets, Bassett Lowke’s bifurcated rivets. But look at what they are used for. Here a harness mentioned first, belts, straps and other goods and here in this description it’s called “harness braid”. And so I asked the elderly gentleman who met me in London (it only took two pints to get to this!). And harness braid is leather – is a suede strip. That is what harness braid is and has always been and as to the width he said it hasn’t changed in several centuries. It’s always been the same width. So can we get some?
So they order it from Spain and lo and behold it’s exactly the width of the white stripe! Here’s one of the proper braids that I was trying to make work and you can see it’s too wide and similarly these braids have not changed width either so we knew we were looking at – this is harness braid just precisely as they described it. So again it took me about 2 years to get around to realising that they were actually telling the truth – so that’s how it works.
So local skills turned out to be the clue, really, to much of what was going on in that room. And then one of the other things, final final settling of the decision was – this is just a rough drawing you can see this – upside down to you but it’s showing the diagram of the bed – up the wall, over the bed, across to the window and down – just a rough drawing, but calculating (again calculating!) how many yards (meters) we need for all this. Well the final thing that brings it all together is the amount of cloth you needed to do the walls and to do the curtains and to do the bedcovers was 40-41 yards (that’s 29-30 meters) – now that is still today, precisely what a loom wants to produce. So it’s the most economical use of that fabric. So you get one “piece” as they call it in the trade and it did everything, absolutely everything you needed.
So the next challenge then was, colours, these descriptions of colours. And I put this in because we did also play around with putting colour selections on the photocopier and photocopying them in black and white to see if we could check the sort of sensibility of the colouring. Now there are doubts bout the extent to which this can work but in the architectural practice of John McAslan they were of the view that it’s pretty reliable with blues. It’s not with yellows which tend to go white and it’s not with reds which tend to go black but with blues you do get enough of a variety of shading on blues to see whether it works. You know to see whether it’s about the right tonality or intensity. So we’re playing around with this then and at the same time then we’re also beginning, certainly I’m beginning to be aware of something (and it’s lovely to see your temporary exhibition here as well especially those Willow Room doors) the extent to which Mackintosh is consistently contrasting the smooth to the textured, the shiny to the matt – always, throughout this house. It’s in the uncut carpet which curls over the top and the cut parqueting which sticks out which makes a completely different impression in terms of texture. If you now look at the house in terms of is it smooth, is it textured, is it shiny, is it rough, is it matt, is it whatever, you’ll see there are “essays” on these contrasts all the way through.
And this shot I think really shows you because you see how smooth the wood it although it has a texture, but you can certainly see it here I think very clearly – or certainly I could – you can see that that is a silk taffeta, it’s got this lovely gloss. And it’s set against this cloth and because we had a sample we knew that cloth was cotton and linen, unbleached linen, and the black stripe is smooth – it’s a satin, the smoothest medium you can produce and the ivory stripe is ribbed, furrowed, so that it produces this texture. So over and over again we’re seeing textured, smooth, you know gloss and again this is why we chose this kind of edging for the lamp so that you have that contrast continue on.
So then there’s the business of more colour choices and I won’t linger too long on this because there’s bags more on this. This is back to the V and A and again I’ll point out this is Foxton……lots and lots and lots of these but I chose these to show you……and these are paint samples actually, Pantone samples, because Sarah was asking me also at this stage to check all the colour choices – we weren’t just working on the bedroom.
And here’s the range. If you don’t believe that there are endless colours of ultramarine blue! These are just the final 7 that we got it down to as a choice and then here’s the one – Number Two – that was actually selected, through all these means of photocopying it and comparing it to other things etc.
And then here’s the final sort of suite of things – you can see the ribbing, this, of course, we are looking at sideways. You can see the horizontal ribbing and you can see the smooth cotton in the black and you can see this lovely little, undulating, just giving a little sense of animation and texture. And you can see also, of course, the white stripe is wider than the black stripe. This prevents the strobe effect visually and it’s why traditionally most of these cloths look like that. And it’s taken with the colour choices that we made for the front room, for the hall/lounge because what also became apparent was the consistency of intensity of colour that Mackintosh was selecting. You know if you think about the colours being ranked according to the purest and then they’re increasingly dulled down, made more grey or having more white introduced to them, it’s really interesting to see how he consistently selects colours that elide at the identical point of intensity. Here’s a petunia which we’re going to come across later.
So now we’re on to the bedspread – another one of these drawings, and you can see all the discussion that’s here. Photographic evidence stops here. So always my job as a historical researcher is to present the evidence and to present it in a manner that is clear but also that is honest so I’m not guessing – I’m not introducing my opinion, I’m introducing the facts as I can find them. So everything is recorded according to what could be seen precisely in the photographs and what beyond that had to be some kind of projection from the evidence. So that’s what you see here. And you can see also the squares, working these out As and Bs – A is the green aligned to the inner edge of the black and on B, the green aligned to the outer edge of the black. And you can see that on the photographs, again Mackintosh playing with these subtle changes in contrasts always.
And there it is, the shot that was rather startling and that’s what was on the website initially. But I think they were worried that people might get too dizzy looking at them. I don’t know. But you can see how significant these details are and of course you can see, I hope you can see, you can see how this light waves, shimmering fabric, is actually moving because of the more substantial body of the fabric underneath it and that’s very similar to the appearance in that black and white photograph that we stopped and looked at. You know, trying to duplicate in every way the materiality of the effect.
So here we have again the detail of these things. And this really to just emphasise this point about texture so subtle and so important. But the leather you see is sueded so it is – let’s look at it in detail – it is really a companion to this satin stripe, the cotton satin stripe. A perfect kind of partner so that when it lays down covering the white you actually really have a substantial band, a really strong visual marking. Had this been a shiny leather – you know a standard leather finish – it would have been quite an abrupt change from one to the other. And I think that all of these details were very much in their minds when they were doing it. These are not accidents, because over and over again you see this awareness of these subtle exchanges.
Now the texture then – just quickly let’s move onto some other things – in the hall/lounge. The texture then we realised was so important and so it was deliberately introduced into the block printing of the curtain fabric that you see in the room. This pattern was quite a challenge.
Here’s of course, the room, the black and white photograph, and there you can see it. And there are also shots of it, upstairs in the temporary exhibition there’s a shot of it just below the fireplace in Candida and there’s a clearer shot that also shows it ….. that really helped us enormously. I found a very small part piece of it (your samples of the Heal’s samples) are only that big (gesturing) So I found a part of it in the V&A and so we really had to work hard to get this far.
So again it was blown up – this really doesn’t do justice to the blow up – but it was blown up in the McAslan office and there, luckily for us – you can see. Isn’t that nice that they arranged the curtain just properly and of course we can measure the windowpanes. That was the key. Because even if you can’t get the pattern right you must get the proportion right. That’s always fundamental for gracefully reintroducing things into an historical …. and so you can see me just measuring and dividing and doing whatever. This also went on for several weeks.
Helen Smith, a wonderful designer, had worked with me at Warners and she had moved on to Parry Murray and, luckily for me, this is how things often happen, they had superb connections with India. And through Helen and Parry Murray we were able to get that cloth – new blocks cut to have that cloth printed, hand printed in India. And here is our working document. Of course you never worry about the colour in the working document, you’re just initially worrying about the scale and the finish, the quality, the “squidginess” of the blockprinting initially and the colour is the last thing that you worry about.
It’s really looking modern … towards a mirror. It’s called ‘Hourglass’ and so this clearly (really) is the pattern or related to the pattern but not at all right in terms of the photographic evidence. In the photographic evidence you know that hourglass is really strong, it’s clear, the contrast is clear. And it isn’t clear here. And of course there’s no indication in either the ‘Candida’ photographs or the Hall Lounge that there’s this kind of ‘rainbow effect’ of colours running through. It seems more consistent.
So this is the final approved sample of what you have. And the colours were chosen in part from those – you saw the yellow earlier. But this piece, it’s a pretty, it’s a lovely appropriate match. That was a little bit of painted hessian that came from behind a little bit of one of the cupboards in this house.
So there it is you can see these little shards. I’m afraid I didn’t bring them because they’re just too fragile. But you can see how the final one has preserved – you see this subtle texture, can you see that in there? And also the yellow on the white has deliberately been allowed to kind of offset slightly. It’s not wrong printing, it’s precisely right printing to give it that sort of energy and that sense of texture, that lighting that one can see in the final print.
We also looked at Mackintosh, of course, his own other forms of colourations. It was lovely to go upstairs and see all those fantastic drawings
*[ MS is referring to her earlier viewing of the 78 Derngate Centenary Exhibition – ‘Charles Rennie Mackintosh & The Great War’ which featured multiple Mackintosh textile designs and other drawings from the period ].*
And so this one in particular, because it is ‘Petunias’ – to see this drawing – and again to compare it – this is a Foxton piece of fabric – to compare it to the colours that we know were being produced at that time. And there is a description of a Mackintosh fabric that does seem rather to match this, although we’ve never been able to put together evidence of a Mackintosh design and this final finish. But you can see how the petunia sort of runs nicely through these colours.
And you can see also this interest – it’s more of a square in the ‘Hourglass’ pattern – but you can see how often he’s using little interrupting elements to create again a different visual surface it’s not a smooth surface, it’s articulating, something else.
And we used those same resources to choose the shades of pink that went upstairs. So again you see the selection of braids and I’ve brought one with me. And the curtains in the main bedroom had to come ‘off the shelf’ because of the budget.
And this is quite difficult on an historic house project because instead of curtains, just one set of curtains, you don’t need a whole piece, you don’t need thirty metres. It’s extraordinarily expensive to have to pay to have thirty metres made when you only need perhaps eight. You know it really does make it an unreasonable cost unless you’re just rolling in dough. And so I went in search – I’m afraid I did get them out but in the end I didn’t bring them they were really heavy – I searched high and low, it was lovely to go to Chelsea Harbour and round all sorts of (around also to places) you know looking for fabrics off the shelf. What I found was, of course you all know upstairs, the Nina Campbell fabric, but what I want you to notice, and this is what in the end I had in my head, thinking well that we know is a Mackintosh watercolour. And I’m looking for the same kind of sensibility in the approach to the colours. But also look at the texture that’s being introduced into this pattern. And this is a replica of an earlier pattern so it had the right kind of pedigree and it’s also on linen, the right kind of cloth with that texture on it.
And finally more measuring, measuring, measuring, measuring. You can see the repeat? Can you see the pacing of the repeat? And so it also was the closest match to that height of pattern so that you had a faithfulness to the scale of the pattern in this room. And it’s useful to also pause here, just to say you see, this room is very modest. This is a private room so the walls don’t have fancy treatment just an edge stencil. These images are so clear that Alison McDermott who did the walcovering could just use that, scan it and make the border from the photograph. That’s how clear they were. But think about the contrast of sheen versus matt – you see it’s here as well. It’s very subtle but it’s absolutely definitely here. It’s being played on completely with the treatment of the wood. It’s being played on with the punctuation of the surface of this duvet and it’s just everywhere that you look you’re seeing these contrasts in different surface treatments. And so we were really happy in the end. And Nina Campbell was wonderful and she donated those curtains to the house.
Same is true then, looking for textural contrasts in the dining room which was one of the most challenging rooms. What you could see quite clearly, at least I could, is that this is velvet.
And so we chose velvet for the curtains, that’s why that choice was made because it made a nice contrast with the tiles around the fireplace etc, playing again on that idea that what was wanted was different kinds of surfaces.
And here’s the colour match that we sort of borrowed and you can see that here transferred forward. It was such a successful design that it was transferred forward. So we knew not only that it was a colour of the right date but that it was a very popular colour of the right date. And then finally we were also able to get velvet of that colour.
We also looked at authentic wallpapers. These are called tapestry wallpapers and notice the texture in the background very much a sensibility of the period and so it all began to fall together and of course the autumnal leaf.
So this is the colour board for the dining room. You can see how we worked: the Pantone paint samples and the velvet samples and so on. The curtains here, just as inside the nets are Scotch Leno Madras – it’s a special technique. It’s a twist in the warp that holds the net mesh open, in place, otherwise it would all collapse together. And of course Mackintosh was from Glasgow and so was Scotch Leno Madras so we thought that that this would be the perfect use of that fabric and you can see there was never enough evidence to tell us what kind of pattern it would be, if it was patterned or whatever but we were able to find something that was right. And that too was donated by the only remaining firm that makes Leno Madras and that was Morton Young and Borland. So they’re to be thanked for the curtains upstairs.
So you’ve seen this at the beginning. Just to take you back so you can see how this whole story circled round. The original photographs, using the resources at the V&A and other knowledge – Warner archives, Macclesfield to come up with a set of colours, always matching fabric to fabric in my case. There are Pantone samples here and that’s because this was paint which was used originally but always matching fabric to fabric because anyone who works with fabrics knows that it’s no good matching fabric to a paint chip because it’s all to do with how the reflection comes off the surface. Velvet is matt and silk taffeta is not, it’s shiny, so always working fabric to fabric.
And then finally, back to this wonderful black and white satin which was found in The Warner Archive. I just wanted to conclude with this because after all this, after it was all done Sue Kerry who was the Archivist at Warners was sorting through something else – it’s always the case I should say that when you work in an archive your job is to open the door but not to go in. Well she had a reason for a client to be looking at this particular area and what she found was a book recording orders that were placed for power weaves by Warners to Courtaulds – also a great firm at the time. Warners up until 1991 had been weavers, Courtaulds were the power weavers next door. And this is a power woven cloth. And she had reason to get into the lot and was looking for something else and what she found was an order of the 22nd October 1915 for ‘Black Tabaret with gold metal thread’ – we’re talking flashy – marked “change address, send to Sussex, Macintosh”. So just been doing some looking up – Pamela Robertson couldn’t identify any project that was 1915 in Sussex but just tonight – some Googling, thankyou very much – Mackintosh made a sketching trip to Sussex in 1909-10 and he did an architectural project in East Grinstead in 1919. The ‘Macintosh’ you see – hesitation it’s facts not opinion, truth not guessing – the ‘Macintosh’ is spelled wrong, it’s spelled ‘M a c i n t o s h’ – so you can’t be sure.
But we’re increasingly, just as a result of coming back here today, increasingly inclined to say that Mackintosh used this black and white stripy fabric elsewhere too. And certainly it’s the quintessential expression of Mackintosh’s architectural approach to using fabrics in designing interiors.
All content by Mary Schoeser.
Audio transcription: Tricia Parker.