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  • Sophie Harpley

Chuck out the chintz?

This week a journalist asked me to share my thoughts on modern chintz. Whilst well into the second paragraph of my reply I realised this is one of my favourite topics and so I'll put the full piece here in case it's yours too.


Chintz was my first pattern love, I grew up in a Victorian house and it was the nineties so my mum filled it with Laura Ashley floral prints. My granny would visit to help make curtains, she would also make us dresses from her favourite Liberty prints. I honestly think one of my earliest memories was gazing at a floral wallpaper we had in one bedroom. Chintz of course dates way back many centuries to India, where printing calico with colourful floral motifs originated. The word Chintz is Hindi and roughly means patterned. British and European countries loved the designs so much they were imported in vast quantities and that's why Chintz is still such an intrinsic part of British style today. Our thirst for cloth spurred on the industrial revolution because we wanted machinery to make more of these beautiful things here too. Floral fever went a bit over the top in Victorian times until William Morris came along to pair things back with symmetry. That's loosely how we arrived at the kind of classic British chintz which names like Sanderson or Colefax and Fowler optimise.

People often worry about chintz being too fussy and Ikea really made its name with the (1996) campaign 'chuck out your chintz'. But I think what we see now is a mix styles and a freedom to experiment and reinterpret. The Scandinavians certainly taught us the art of minimalism but we still adore chintz! So we now use floral patterns in all kinds of ways, reflecting its eclectic history. Personally I think it's really lovely to mix vintage patterns with new interpretations; telling the story of time around your home. Minimalists might prefer just a splash of one favourite pattern on a small area like a cushion or wallpaper backed shelves. But others are more confident to mix and layer chintz from different eras together. One of the best ways to play with pattern is by mixing old and new, something like a vintage patchwork will look incredible alongside a new wallpaper. The key is sticking with a colour palette, that will create harmony and let your chintz do the talking!


The story of chintz is a huge influence for me. When I studied my MA in design (2012) my tutor was very dismissive of my interest in pattern and it only made me more determined to specialise in it! We shouldn't dismiss chintz as frilly and frivolous - it's actually a huge part of the cultural history of the globe. British design is very much wrapped up in chintz.


I'm not actually a fan of extreme maximalism, which a lot of people associate with chintz. I find that floor to ceiling patterned look a bit forced. My personal style at home is more relaxed, yes there's lot of pattern but it's not everywhere! I think it's nice to let some corners breath and that way your cherry-picked patterns can really shine. If you agree, you might also like my piece: Curated Maximalism.


I don't think Ikea's campaign would go down well in 2023, with the ever evolving core hashtags like #grannycore and #cottagecore or the more sophisticated 'Neo Country' styles being so in favour over recent years. If history has taught us anything it's that some designs are fairly timeless. But moreover, the shift towards up-cycling (read hunting down vintage fabrics) is not a flippant trend, but rather a societal shift that will (and should) only continue as awareness increases around global warming and waste. Thankfully we no-longer need to import chintz from around the world. My own wallpapers are printed in Britain with eco inks and sustainable papers. That means for every tree used, one is planted. Because I think if you are as utterly obsessed and inspired by the beauty of nature as me, you need to protect it too.


18th century Indian chintz, most likely hand block printed.
18th century Indian chintz, most likely hand block printed.

Jean Monroe 'Rose and Fern' classic chintz fabric
Jean Monroe 'Rose and Fern' classic chintz fabric

Ikea chintz sofa
Ikea chintz sofa; despite their attempts to chuck chintz, the brand succumbs to temptation in the noughties.

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