Puttin' on the Chintz

My dear friend and talented decorator Beth Martell of Randall Ridless insists that chintz is back - and I couldn't agree more. What could be a better antidote to tight budgets and grey forecasts - for both the weather and economy - than this exuberantly colorful and patterned printed cotton?

Its lack of pretention and brashful cheeriness are just two reasons why it feels so right. And it doesn't hurt that it's easy on the pocket book compared to the grander lampas or brocade.

The custom of using tailored covers, often of checked cloth, first started in the 18th century in grander English houses to protect precious Genoan velvets and silk damasks when not entertaining. In the 19th century and onwards, chintzes were used liberally as covers. Many like at Brodsworth Hall, below, have both summer and winter prints

When English Heritage took over Brodsworth in 1990, they commissioned a hand-blocked reproduction of "The Favorite", the summer chintz seen above. "The Champion" used in winter-time is the same pattern but more subdued.

A guest bedroom at Brodsworth last redecorated in 1905 and left as English Heritage founded it. Several of the total 107 different patterns are on display.

The drawing room at the eccentric Calke Abbey. The floral sprays of the chintz covers serve as a blast of fresh air and enliven the room's gilded opulence.

No mention of chintz could omit its royal highness (and Beth's former boss) Mario Buatta. His work for the Palm Beach residence (top photo) of the owners of Carolands featured in this month's Architectural Digest is full of zip and zest. Buatta is known for his English Country House style and was greatly inspired by John Fowler.

Nancy Lancaster's bedroom by Colefax and Fowler. "Berkeley Sprig", inspired by a fragment of antique wallpaper found in a Berkeley Square residence, covers the George III armchair and is the firm's signature print.

Colefax and Fowler alumna Nina Campbell used Baker's Ferns by GP & J Baker in this bedroom. Apparently the project was low on funds at this point and the reasonable price point enabled her to use yards and yards of it. Baker's Ferns was first introduced in 1935 adapted from Curtis’s Flora Londinensis, and was a favorite of Elsie de Wolfe. This image inspired me to use Ferns in my bedroom.

Another fabric I'd love to use is "Geisha" by Jean Monro, first introduced in 1928 by Jean's mother, Mrs. Geraldine Monro, a top drawer English society decorator. Jean started reproducing the firm's archival prints, staying faithful to the original techniques, in 1981. The quality of these chintzes is phenomenal, still hand-blocked and using as many as 24 screens. Click here to see more...

Do you have a favorite chintz?
Top photo by Scott Frances for Architectural Digest, #2 and #3 by Antony Crolla for The World of Interiors, # 4 courtesy National Trust, #5 courtesy Colefax and Fowler, #6 from Nina Campbell's The Art of Decoration, # 7 courtesy Jean Monro