Thursday, June 27

Nest by Tamara's WHY IN DESIGN column: the value and history of using toile fabrics in a home

blue toile entices 
photograph via Traditional Home 
in interior design, 
the why, how & when?
French Reproduction Toile 1830 at Winterthur
Welcome back to 
Friday's Why In Design  
I started writing these two weekly columns to add a little consistency to the blog and give us a little more to think about:  Friday's Why In Design and Monday's Weekday Supper provide both food and design inspiration in regular doses.  With a busy early summer, I got a lil' sidetracked with posting all the great NYC and Hampton design events, and not to mention my "summer must have" series to set you off and running on your summer with a list of sources to help entertain and decorate with vigor. But, I'm back with a vengeance and let's start today with a look at 
Toile de Jouy
In French, toile means "cloth"
Toile de Jouy   
 "sometimes abbreviated to simply "toile", it is a type of decorating pattern consisting of a white or off-white background on which a repeated pattern depicting a fairly complex scene, generally of a pastoral theme such as a couple having a picnic by a lake or an arrangement of flowers.] The pattern portion consists of a single color, most often black, dark red, or blue. Greens, browns, and magenta toile patterns are less common, but not unheard of. Toile is most associated with fabrics (curtains and upholstery in particular, especially chintz), though toile wallpaper is also popular."  Wikipedia

History of Toile -- Toile was originally created with a copper plate process and printed on cotton.  There are reports of toile in Ireland in the 1700s, but much is known about the making of toile by 1760 in France, and the using it to decorate in homes became popular during the 18th Century in both England and France. The name toile can be traced to a small town near Versailles called, Jouy en Josas where it was created.  The use of toile in decorating here in the States has had surges of popularity over the years, notably in Colonial times in America, and again in the 1930s, and again in the 1970 with the bicentennial then again 1980s with the popularity of Chintz (Thank You Mario Buatta, Prince of Chintz).  I equate toile with the French countryside, and those pretty pastoral or farm scenes with maidens milking cows in a repeat pattern adorning the fabric.  Decorating with toile transforms me to the lavender fields of France, and inspires me want to hop on an airplane to Provence.  Usually printed on cotton or linen, but for a more sophisticated appearance on cotton chintz, toile is a lovely way to tell a story about lifestyle -- a country scene, the people who live there and their everyday life, or even their fantasy life.  Sometimes the toile shows different cultures, like the ever-popular Chinese toile scenes.  Toile can show us history and culture with a single glance.   It's soothing and beautiful and when used well in a home can add charm and sophistication.

American Toile -- In the 19th century roller printing procedures replaced the copper place technique and made it more readily available, and soon Americans began creating their own versions of Toile, which were mostly depicted 18th century European lifestyles.  What differentiates a traditional French toile with music lyres and ladies carrying parasols or farm animal scenery from an American one? sometimes they are the same and reproduced but with a more loose sketch to the pattern, and maybe unusual colors and combinations.  I like to say that Americans are the masters of re-invention and re-interpretation.  We took many of these classic French and English scenes then added our own twist and made it our own. American toile has been incredibly popular over the years.  Toile fabric had an important role in identifying our own design style and our overall identity in the Colonial times when we were building our nation, establishing our identity and independence from England. These toiles from that era can be an almost text book story of our American history.

 as seen with this typical Williamsburg toile: 

a regal navy color depicting family life in Williamsburg
The popularity of toile in America was at its height again in the 1930s with the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.  Many fabrics told the story of the people and the struggles of our country, the growth and even the sad witness to the slave industry depicted in the scenes of working everyday life, such as this dark navy background Chintz (above) used in Williamsburg.  
one of the French "Four Seasons" re-worked depicting daily life rituals in France
Want to work with toile but afraid it will look too frumpy?  for a contemporary feel add a little bit of the pattern to a room and then mix it up with other designs - such as this geometric with a floral pillow from Jane Churchill collection in front of the toile curtains
photo via House to Home
Toile can be fresh looking and modern in appeal too, not just a traditional aesthetic, and using a black or dark toile can create a dramatic and sometimes masculine appeal.  To add a sense of modernism to a room use black and white toile then add a jolt of bold color as in this photograph above with the bright yellow table and bench

black toile can have a big impact in a simple space
One of my most favorite toiles, and I have used this over and over again from 
Brunschwig & Fils - West Indies Toile
I prefer to use blue and white and, like this one, with less tight pattern because it can be used in both modern and traditional applications
I love blue toile.  Why blue?  
Well, I'm a big believer in color as one of the most important components of decorating.  Blue is a soothing color and not as harsh when used in large doses as other colors.  As a matter of fact, I'm with good old, Henry Francis du Pont.  Du Pont was way ahead of his time as a gardener, collector of Americana, decorator and head creative behind making the Wintethur Museum what it is today (and, by the way did you know Henry du Pont was asked by Jackie O to help advise with her decorator on the antiques and art for the White House?).  See above du Pont's color genius in combining hues in the Queen Anne dining room for a New Hampshire client in the 18th century.  Du Pont believed color was one of the most important features when decorating (his color sense is illustrated in his designs at the dreamy Beauport Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts owned by his friend Henry Sleeper).  Du Pont advised Sleeper on the renovations and designs of the Beauport Museum and much of the glass collections and colors.  This dining room for a New Hampshire home is shown at the Winterthur Museum, and isn't that blue toile just punchy, and well, timeless and almost modern in approach set against that pale washed green woodwork?   
blue & white toile I used throughout a beach cottage master bed and bath
As a decorating process it can be very busy yet when used in the one color version (especially in blue) and repeated in a space over again as the singular fabric in a room, it can have a soothing influence.  When it comes to toile as the only fabric choice in a space, I say more is better.  In other words, use it repeatedly in a room to get the most dramatic impact.  I used it in to create a beach house master bedroom and bathroom with a Hinson seagrass wall cover in the bathroom, and alternating a plain, white cotton twill with the toile to give an interesting appearance and a simple, beach aesthetic.
When I decorated this cottage, I longed for a relaxed feel so chose a simple, yet unusual toile with a blue background and white flower pattern (reverse of the normal toiles) in a simple, light cotton from French fabric maker, Brunschwig & Fils.  This pattern gives a country feel, but a sophisticated aesthetic, not literally with animals or country scenes, but with rustic sprigs of flowers and grapes cascading along the drape.  I made relaxed floppy roman shades for the bedroom windows and similar ones with white twill but trimmed with the blue toile for the bathroom windows.  I made a shower curtain combining the twill and toile in a pattern, tufted the seat on the bench to the dressing table, and covered the seat covers of two painted chairs, slip covered a small pull-out sofa and made a tailored toile bed skirt, then added four large European sized pillows in the toile to offset the otherwise all-white bedding.  The end result is the room feels timeless, sophisticated and serene.  The blue paint color on the walls is a perfect beach blue, like the ocean.  The painted walls and lots of blue toile are a backdrop for lots of white furniture and accessories, neutral colored art and shell mirrors, rattan and touches of pale green painted furniture (European Fine Paints of Europe's Vreeland Green).  

The space feels just right!
Manual Canovas
Colefax & Fowler
These two are some of my favorites because they are almost modern in feel, timeless yet classic... Colefax & Fowler and Manuel Canovas "get" modern design, and utilizes old world patterns but injects bold and unusual color combinations for a modern French feel. So, go on and add a little sense of history to your home and start small, maybe with a throw or lumbar pillow, then work your way from there.   Each time you glance at your toile you'll remember the past, while bringing it into your home adding a modern twist.