Issue 5 – Traditions

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Best British Find

‘Whatever you have in your rooms think first of the walls, for they are that which makes your house and home, and if you do not make some sacrifices in their favour you will find your chambers have a kind of makeshift, lodging-house look about them…’ – William Morris

Some 30 years ago, Claud Cecil Gurney was faced with a dilemma. His London house was covered in beautiful but very tired antique chinoiserie wallpaper desperately in need of careful restoration. Much of it was torn or cracked, and those parts that were still intact were worn thin by countless curious hands and years of neglect. To remove it seemed sacrilegious but in spite of his best efforts to identify a local restorer, he could find no one.

Finally, and after much consultation and research he decided to go back to the original source in the hope of finding someone still versed in the traditions of chinoiserie paper. After all, this famous city in the East had been one of the main centres of production during the eighteenth century.

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Historically wallpaper, with a few notable exceptions, has been the poor relation of the decorative arts. Rather than being a room’s primary focus of interest it has generally been thought of as mere ‘background decor’. Nevertheless, its role in the overall decorative scheme is a vital one. The choice of wallpaper design greatly affects the mood and style of a room. It is likely to influence the choice of other furnishings and may be indicative of a room’s function. It will also often reflect the age, status and gender of its inhabitants.

By the early nineteenth century, wallpaper had established itself as a luxurious and elegant commodity in the UK. Chinese papers and French scenic decorations had started to become widespread amongst the more affluent households, and throughout the century these styles slowly filtered through into middle class and then more working class households. However, as its use became widespread the debates and controversies about taste and class soon surfaced until finally wallpaper fell from fashion. Even those who designed wallpapers themselves – including William Morris – often preferred to use other kinds of wall covering, or none at all.

Yet, while furniture and textiles are traditionally passed down from one generation to the next, wallpaper (owing to its fragile and ephemeral quality) is frequently damaged, covered over or removed altogether, so leaving it absent from the historical record.

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Claud Gurney arrived in Shanghai full of hope and excitement but what he soon discovered was that while the technique and art form may have originated in the East, the Chinese themselves never actually used this beautiful material in their own homes. The artisans were simply fulfilling the demands of the export market. More frustrating still, although the Chinese manufacturers were very happy to supply him with new papers, they were less willing to take an interest in his existing wallpaper!

To rectify this situation, Gurney boldly decided to set up his own company, working with craftsmen to restore antique wallpapers and keep the traditions and techniques alive. And so, in 1986, de Gournay was born.

de Gournay today is still very much a family-run business. The company’s highly skilled artisans paint exquisite chinoiserie wallpapers with visually dramatic scenes such as Japanese and Korean landscapes or vistas inspired by the French ‘Papiers Peints Panoramiques’ so beloved of the Victorians. They can also individually customize each piece, no matter how complex from hand-gilding using 22ct gold leaf to creating a unique colour that subtly compliments an interior.

One of their latest designs is the Coco Coromandel inspired by the original Chinese lacquered screens. It is said that Coco Chanel once owned 32 of them. Painted by hand onto a traditional Chinese ‘Edo Xuan’ rice paper, de Gournay’s new design is a painterly interpretation of a section from one of the Chanel Coromandel.

What de Gournay has achieved is not only the revival of a lost art but perhaps more significantly it has transformed wallpaper and wall furnishings into something that can now be loved and treasured through the generations.

How to choose your wooden floor

The popularity of wooden floors has for centuries fluctuated. What we now think of as a beautiful and sought-after finish was in times past considered just a splinter-ridden floorboard best covered by a rug. In fact it wasn’t until the 17th-18th century that wooden floors finally became elegant.

During the 19th century the wealthier English homes began to introduce parquetry, where the boards are arranged in geometric herringbone or diamond shapes, and marquetry, where veneer is inlaid to create designs or even little scenes.

By the early 1930’s a new-found love of carpet and linoleum meant that wooden floors once again lost their appeal and it has only been in the last fifteen years we have seen another resurgence in this beautiful and comforting surface.

We spoke to both the Site and Project Managers about their experiences with wooden floors – and what you should look out for.

Why choose a wooden floor?

Project Manager: People often worry about the long-term durability of wooden floors. This is of course a consideration, but wood is not only beautiful, but also tough and full of character; there are so many different colours, textures and variations now available that no floor is ever quite alike. More to the point it can also easily be refreshed with just a few hours of sanding and lacquering. Engineered timber boards are generally better than solid wood and if sufficiently thin and of good quality can be used with under-floor heating.

Site Manager: Before you decide whether or not to use a wooden floor, check the subfloor. It must be level and in good condition. Most London houses have dreadful subfloors so I would recommend you fully level it before new wooden boards are fitted. Not doing so will lead to cracks in the joints or twists in the wood that are hard to conceal as the years go by.

How to choose the right pattern?

Project Manager: Popular styles at the moment include traditional herringbone, chevron and more complex “Versailles style” patterns. While these can be traced back hundreds of years, they still give a bold, modern look that works well in open-plan spaces.

In this project, a herringbone pattern was chosen, using European White Oak and a dark ‘Tobago’ lacquer – all FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified of course. Be aware that there is a lot of tonal variation in batches of flooring so ensure that you buy more than you need just to be on the safe side.

What were the challenges on this particular project?

Site Manager: The floor was one of the most complex aspects of this project. Not only were there many stages to the build up: preparing the subfloor, fitting the underlay, laying the electric heating mats, leveling the surface before finally fitting the floor but there were also many different levels to cope with. To finish off, we had thresholds specially made, fitted and French polished to colour match the lacquer. At times we had as many as 7 people working on different areas of it.

What inspired you to use a wooden floor on this project and what other tips can you offer?

Project Manager: Using wooden flooring throughout the flat has given the project a cohesive flow and made the smaller rooms feel more spacious. It is easy to maintain by sweeping and mopping lightly and as long as you protect it with sealants, beeswax or lacquer the surface will last. You can use wooden floors in most rooms but always consider how you are going to utilise the space. While it will probably be easier to clean than a carpet (particularly if you have children or pets!), older properties will suffer from draughts so adding a rug will automatically create a cosier feel.

Christmas traditions

Did you know… that there are at least 6 different languages spoken by the team at Goodbody & Co., meaning 6 very different cultural traditions at Christmas! So while we are opening our stockings or tucking into a roast turkey, this is what is happening in Latvia, Poland, France, Argentina, and Lithuania.

In France, the night of the 24th is the focus of festivities. Families dress up and spend hours sitting around the dining table, which must look elegant and inviting. They start with salmon or oysters (or both) and foie gras, before the roast is served: goose, capon or turkey stuffed with chestnuts. The feast ends with a “buche de Noel”, a sponge cake decorated like a Yule log and iced with chocolate and chestnut buttercream. Champagne and wine is drunk throughout the evening. Attending Midnight Mass is important, although young families often attend an earlier service instead. At bed time the children (and adults) will leave their shoes under the Christmas tree in the hope that Father Christmas might fill them with presents.

The 24th is celebrated in Latvia with close family who share 9 special dishes, each with a particular meaning. A dish of peas and beans is served to help you cry less; bacon pies, to bring you new surprises; beetroots and carrots, to keep you healthy; gingerbreads, to remind that you are loved; round shaped cookies, to bring the sunshine; stewed cabbage to give you strength; poultry, to achieve good progress; fish to fill your wallet with money and pork for happiness. Houses are beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and advent wreaths.

In Poland on the other hand, a minimum of 12 dishes are prepared and eaten on Christmas Eve, one for each of the apostles. Traditionally there is no meat or alcohol served that night but special fruit juices, lots of fish, dumplings, pasta and cake. Later in the evening a ‘real’ Santa Claus will knock on your door to distribute the presents before everyone troops off to Midnight Mass. Lithuania has very similar traditions.

However in Argentina, on the other side of the world, temperatures often reach 35 degrees so food is either served cold or barbequed. Traditional dishes include vitel toné (veal with tuna-flavoured mayonnaise …), melon and ham, turrón (nougat), flan and panettone. The celebrations begin on the 24th with dinner, dancing and fireworks and carry on through until lunch on the 25th. Houses are decorated with Christmas trees and festive table decorations. Interestingly, Argentinians don’t tend to wrap their own presents (most shops have a gift wrapping service), saving a lot of headaches!

Portrait of…

As a child Mariano loved the structure and design of the big old town houses in Buenos Aires. The thickness of the walls, the creak of cedar boards and the musty smell of European oak and dust. Even the staircases, often lined in carved wood paneling had a drama and deeply nostalgic feel to them. This fascination turned into an enduring interest and led him naturally towards a career in architecture, where he has continued to have an affinity for the natural materials around him.

After graduating from university, where he met Rocio Lereah, Mariano did a spell at a design company producing layouts and interiors for small high street banks before moving to DP&A Real Estate Consulting. This was a much bigger operation that designed for large commercial and residential buildings between 8,000m2 and 60,000m2. During those years Mariano developed a great wealth of knowledge as a project manager and problem solver working tightly with the site teams and other designers. Then finally in 2016 he knew it was time for a change.

I have always been drawn to England. I love the culture, the cozy pubs on dark winter evenings and icy paths in the morning, which we rarely see in Argentina. Of course the great variety of buildings is mind blowing for an architect!’

It is the buzz that comes with any new project that Mariano loves the most, as well as the fact that as an architect you are not just working behind a desk but on the various sites and face to face with clients.

He claims there is no aspect of the job that he doesn’t like although he does admit there have been a few challenges. Finding new ways to express architectural ideas is a particularly difficult task since the nuance and subtleties of a different language can dramatically change a design concept and how it is presented to a client. He has also found that London life has brought an unexpected vitality and change to his design. Unlike the limited styles and designs back home, London’s residential skyline is literally brimming with inspiration and choice.

While Goodbody & Co. projects are quite different to those at DP&A in Argentina, Mariano has found that the most interesting contrasts actually lie in the materials and techniques employed. The current UK trend of exposing plumbing and cables for example is very strange to him. In Buenos Aires this would be anathema to most clients who expect all services and pipework to be concealed behind pristine walls.

Similarly, while most building sites in the UK primarily use ‘dry’ materials including steel and plasterboard, Argentine builders prefer to use ‘wet’ materials, such as bricks and sand. This is often a question of cost, dry materials are much more expensive for Argentina to import but also customers don’t ‘trust’ walls and ceilings that seem flimsy or have a pre-fabricated feel. They want to believe that they are building something that will last for many lifetimes.

Funnily enough, this approach to building is much more in line with the philosophy and construction style of the Victorians and may now mean that he is in the perfect place to utilise innovative South American techniques in West London. His next goal is to truly understand the English way of life, starting with Christmas!

Another gift

Since it’s Christmas, we’ve asked the Goodbody & Co. team to tell us what objects they couldn’t live without. Will you recognize the person behind those objects? Maybe it will give you ideas for your own gift list…

As a child he would often go and visit the company where his father worked. On the wall there were two or three analogue clocks. He remembers the thrill of watching and waiting for the exact moment that the minutes changed. For him the Karlsson’s analogue wall clock captures that childhood memory.

Before settling in South London, she had moved many times – more than eleven flats in fifteen years. The one thing she would always pack to remind her of home was a scented candle to bring warmth and atmosphere to a room. Diptyque’s ‘Feu de bois’ reminds her of long Sunday afternoons spent at her grandparents’ country house, while Rami Mekdachi’s ‘Lola James Harper’ range conjures up very particular places and stories: the Promenade in Vincennes, or The Vinyl Store, Rue des Dames.

You always see him carrying his notebook, writing lists and taking notes: without a pad, he says he might forget something! Although he doesn’t necessarily have a favorite, he does love ‘The hand of architect book & notebook set” by Moleskine. And if you are a stationary fan in general, then definitely browse these collections: liberty.co.uk, marbyandelm.com, quilllondon.com, presentandcorrect.com.

For this member of the team, it’s all about soft throws and cushions. The Conran shop has them in beautiful solid colours, while Designers Guild and Liberty are great for fabrics and cushions. For a sophisticated use of colour and pattern, you’ll love Claire Gaudion, a contemporary British textile designer.

Lastly, a perfect way to make a house feel more like home is to make a really good meal: a casserole perhaps, or a roast – even a tagine. She says that nothing feels more homely than the aroma of herbs and spices and the promise of a good meal with family and friends. Le Creuset is perhaps the most well known brand of cookware – there is nothing that hints at home-cooked deliciousness quite like that flash of rustic orange!