"You create an interior as an expression of joy, then when you are in need of joy you can immerse yourself in the interior to lift you back up." Tim Butcher and Lizzie Deshayes of Fromental have been creating bespoke wallcoverings for 16 years. We chatted to the inspiring duo ahead of the launch of their new sister company, Studio by Fromental.
Q: You can find Fromental wallcoverings in some very cool locations. What project are you proudest of?
I think it's got to be the lobby of The Goring Hotel. It was such a personal piece. The Goring has a wonderful balance of classicism and eccentricity and we hope we managed to capture that in the design. The wallcovering shows an Arcadian landscape peopled with walruses, banqueting pigs and other hidden creatures.
Q: It looks like you have been busy over lockdown. Tell us about the launch of your new brand Studio by Fromental and how it came about.
A: We believe that walls are surfaces for decoration and self-expression — art needn’t be framed. That being said, we understand that commissioning a truly bespoke wallcovering can be daunting, so wanted to use our skills and knowledge of the craft to create wallpapers that have a similar bold beauty but are easier to purchase and use.
Our intention for the new diffusion line is to empower more people to be brave with their walls and express themselves creatively.
Every element of a Fromental project is bespoke, whereas Studio designs are supplied as ‘ready to hang’ sets of four panels. Each design is based on an original, hand-painted artwork which is then hand-finished to order. This method honours Fromental’s craft and finesse and works beautifully with the papers and textured grounds we print on.
Q: Studio contains nine new designs, with 38 possible colourways, Where do you get the inspiration from?
A: As designers, we take our inspiration from all around us. We visit galleries and exhibitions and we have a deep love of the history of the decorative arts. This continual research into pattern and process informs all of our creations.
The debut collection for the brand is called 1st Edition. Each design within the collection has its own individual style - its own story to tell. We drew inspiration from a breadth of art forms, so two threads run through the collection. One is our ongoing exploration of stylised floral motifs, with a strong influence from Asian arts and culture. Another is experimenting with abstract architectural forms and texture.
Some examples to illustrate this:
‘Flock’ is a bold scale scene of cranes dancing across the room. Designed by Emma, this pattern is a modern take on the Rinpa School style.
Inspired by the leather inlaid bookbinding of Georges Cretté in the 1930s, Andrew composed the powerful architectural piece that is 'Deco Arches'. This arresting pattern recalls the era's modernist style, fine craftsmanship and use of rich materials.
'Edo Springs' is a painterly mix of delightful shades, which ensure that this abstract floral pattern is both balanced and bold. The design itself is a contemporary rendition of a classic Japanese screen with trailing flowers climbing the walls.
Q: Do you have a personal favourite in the new collection?
A: It is always difficult to choose a favourite, and this often changes over time depending on the spaces used and the architectural surroundings, but if we must -
Tim - 'Bamboo Lights.' There is an inherent challenge in designing something abstract and minimal because there is a deceptive simplicity to it which can easily slip into something very pedestrian. Andrew, who designed Bamboo Lights, has managed to create a design that is simple yet versatile, abstract but still has character, graphic but with a real sense of movement and flow. Our US team seem to particularly love it!
Lizzie - 'Coquilles.' I love the simplicity and elegance of this design. The shape and texture bring to mind wonderful Deco era tiles. Scale and proportions really attract me in wallpapers, and Coquilles is skilfully designed to balance both perfectly.
Q: How was Fromental born?
A: We launched Fromental in 2005 with the simple aim to make the world’s most beautiful wallcoverings. Our more audacious aim was to create the defining decorative arts of our time. Lizzie was and is an accomplished craftsman and she had developed a series of designs that offered a 21st Century slant to traditional scenic papers. I had been working with classical chinoiserie papers for several years and was working closely with artists in China. We established our own studio and Fromental began.
Our artists are trained in the traditional skills and styles of Chinese painting, paper-craft and embroidery. We were the first to introduce traditional embroidery into wallcoverings, fusing two ancient crafts for a new medium. Over the years we have worked to move beyond the forms of traditional figurative styles to create more conceptual designs.
One of our most satisfying collaborations was with Lalique. The Hirondelles pattern incorporates iconic crystals into the painted and embroidered silk. The three-dimensional embellishments and the prismatic play of light are unique in the history of wall surfaces.
Q: How do you see your brand evolving, both now and in the future?
A: We have never considered ourselves followers of trends or followed traditional launch cycles. Our philosophy has always been to launch a design when we feel it is relevant. We are restless and simply want to continue our exploration of materials, techniques and patterns to always produce something new and surprising.
We work very closely with the designers who use our wallcoverings and this establishes a creative relationship. This has naturally lead to collaborations. We love the creative energy generated by these projects, where both parties learn from each other. So, we definitely envisage more of those.
One of our most satisfying collaborations was with Lalique. The Hirondelles pattern incorporates iconic crystals into the painted and embroidered silk. The three-dimensional embellishments and prismatic play of light are unique in the history of wall surfaces. To be able to work closely with such a decorative design icon was incredibly inspiring. It was fascinating to learn more about René Lalique the man, and to work side by side with the generations of craftsmen behind their production. It was clear that René Lalique combined art and industry through relentless creativity – that was a real inspiration for what we want to achieve through Fromental.
Q: Your designs are bold and vivacious. Why are colour and texture important in an interior?
A: At best an interior is an expression of our own unique personality. To me, colour, texture and pattern are the languages of that expression. Combing these elements can create further resonance and energy between the elements. This can amplify and add nuance to the language. When you create an interior that expresses this personality and mood, it becomes a great gift that reflects back this mood when you need it. You create an interior as an expression of joy, then when you are in need of joy you can immerse yourself in the interior to lift you back up.
New trends emerge as a reaction to the oversaturation that went before. So, after any period of beige minimalism, people are keen to explore pattern and colour and wallpaper is a great way of doing that.
Q: Each bespoke Fromental design is handmade at great lengths. Why are these long and laborious processes worthwhile?
A: Our clients are looking to create unique interiors. Not only do we want to produce something you won't see anywhere else, but also something with a very personal story. Working with these hand-made processes means that we are free from the usual constraints of production and this enables such a bespoke design service.
We have become known for our elaborate and hand-embroidered designs. Our artists spend up to 600 hours elegantly painting and stitching individual panels. I really do believe that when you have an item that has so much personal focus and attention, so much application of skill, the material is imbued with the quality of the craftsmanship in a way that is palpable. There are no shortcuts to achieving this.
Q: Wallcoverings were a staple of the 18th Century and were once considered 'out of fashion.' What do you think is driving their renewed popularity?
A: In our more recent history wallpapers did become unfashionable for a short time in the 90s, but these trends are cyclical. New trends emerge as a reaction to the oversaturation that went before. So, after any period of beige minimalism, people are keen to explore pattern and colour and wallpaper is a great way of doing that. Maybe starting with one wall but as people have become more confident, wallpaper has gone from strength to strength.
It is always important to remember that no ‘trend’ is ever all-encompassing. Designers with bold visions were using maximalist patterns during any period where the ‘norm’ was minimal.
The fact is that wallpapers are the perfect medium to put your own personal stamp into your interiors. There are few ways of creating such a strong statement in any interior than with the use of a strong wallpaper.
Q: Some of your most beautiful wallpapers are in the chinoiserie style, which we often see in our furniture and decorative antiques. How can chinoiserie work in today's homes?
A: Chinoiserie – that wonderful hybrid of European and Far East design – transcends fashion. It brings exoticism, colour, pattern and movement to a room of any size or style of architecture, which is why it has never been out of style. The themes found within chinoiserie designs, such as panoramic garden landscapes, ornate florals and delicately drawn birds, harness the restorative power of nature. These themes resonate strongly today with our sense of wellbeing.
Chinoiserie wallpapers are often used on all four walls, which creates that wonderful immersive feeling. It is also a versatile canvas – you can add contrasting elements for an ultra-modern interior or complementary furniture and accessories for a more classic look.
Q: What is your favourite room in the home? Why?
A: Tim - my favourite room is one I do not have. But I think imaginary rooms are important. In Bleak House Mr Jarndyce introduces his ‘Growlery’; “When I am out of humour, I come and Growl here… When I am deceived or disappointed, and the wind is easterly, I take refuge here”. I shall have my own Growlery one day and I know exactly how I shall decorate it.
Lizzie - The studio. In the words of Virginia Wolf, it is a room of one's own.
When selecting colour and pattern you need to make choices that are bolder than you may immediately feel comfortable with so that you are not underwhelmed by the result.
Q: We're all feeling very familiar with our own homes after the last year. How can people escape a design rut?
A: In our experience, the familiarity of their four walls has inspired people to change their décor. In the last year, we have had time to focus on that in a way that is seldom possible.
Events and venues we would normally frequent for our cultural fixes and inspiration have been closed. However, in this void, the design community has stepped up with talks programmes and virtual presentations. So, in fact, the interested consumer has had more inspiration at their fingertips.
Of course, book your tickets once the galleries, museums and exhibitions re-open. We know we will be!
Q: Your designs are wonderfully decorative - would you say you both have a maximalist approach to interiors?
A: We do love the more is more approach to decorating! We feel that, when selecting colour and pattern, you need to make choices that are bolder than you may immediately feel comfortable with so that you are not underwhelmed by the result. However, we would not describe our own homes as maximalist. Yes, every surface is filled with textures and pattern but we have created a space which is not overly layered. There is a richness to the result but I would say it is somehow more naturalistic. Even the patterns have a quality akin to organic materials rather than bold graphics.
Q: We have loved working with Fromental in the past. If you could pair one piece from our website with one of your new designs, what would they be?
A: A few choices!
I love smokework and think this cabinet would be beautiful with Coquilles in Lettered olive.
This fabulous Scandinavian cupboard with Edo Springs in Celadon rose. This definitely appeals to the maximalist in me …!
We also love this Amalfi headboard by Lorfords Contemporary with our Rocaille design in col Belvedere.
Read all of our Q&As on L-Shaped.